Trusting God… versus trusting doctrine.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November 2023

I’ve posted before about the “doctrines of grace,” as Calvinists call ’em—the things they believe about God and how he saves us. The doctrine they focus on most is God’s sovereignty, which they believe is so absolute, it overrides everything else: Everything in the universe happens because God decreed it.

Not merely allowed it to happen, even though he could totally intervene if he wants, ’cause he’s almighty and unlimited. Determined it would happen. Everything happens because God has a singular plan for the universe, meticulously decided what’d happen and what wouldn’t, and it’s playing out right now. It’s all part of the plan. Trust the plan. Trust God.

Calvinists call this “the doctrine of sovereignty”—doctrine being one of Christianity’s formal fixed beliefs. It’s something they insist Christians must believe. Not should believe; not can believe, ’cause it’s optional. To them, it’s not. You must believe it, if you call yourself Christian. If you don’t—if in fact you teach otherwise—you’ve gone wrong. You’re heretic. Or worse, you’re not even Christian.

So since I dare to say the “doctrine of sovereignty” is fatalistic rubbish which comes more from Platonism than the scriptures, certain Calvinists are convinced I’m heretic. Or, again, not even Christian.

One of ’em put it to me thisaway recently: “I trust God. You don’t.”

No, you trust your doctrine. Which isn’t God. Although you might not recognize the difference. There is one, y’know.

The purpose of doctrine.

The Calvinist who accused me of not trusting God, has confused his doctrine with God. To him, God’s defined by Christian doctrines. He’s not; not at all. God defines himself.

Christian doctrines are our attempt to understand God, based on how we understand the scriptures. Hopefully we understand ’em correctly! But certain doctrines do not, and the Calvinist doctrine of sovereignty is an obvious example. It tries to prove God is deterministic through carefully cherry-picked proof texts—but it ignores, or tries to explain away, all the texts which prove otherwise. And they really do prove otherwise.

The scriptures state God sometimes changes his mind. Want me to quote ’em? Sure; why not. Many Calvinists are big fans of the English Standard Version, so I’ll use that translation.

Exodus 32.14 ESV
And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

Namely the disaster of wiping out the idolatrous Hebrews and turning Moses and his descendants into his chosen people instead. Ex 32.9-10 Moses talked him out of it. Occasionally you’ll find Calvinists who insist “relent” doesn’t actually mean “relent” (and especially doesn’t mean the KJV’s “repent”) and instead is an anthropomorphism; God appears to change his mind from our human perspective, but doesn’t really. In other words the bible doesn’t really mean what it says, because we understand God better than the authors of the bible. Which is all kinds of arrogant, and is all the more reason we shouldn’t trust such people.

More examples? No problem.

2 Samuel 24.16 ESV
And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
 
1 Chronicles 21.15 ESV
And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
 
Psalm 106.45 ESV
For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
 
Jeremiah 18.8 ESV
“…and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.”
 
Jeremiah 26.13 ESV
“Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.”
 
Jeremiah 26.19 ESV
“Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.”
 
Jeremiah 42.10 ESV
“If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.”
 
Joel 2.13 ESV
…and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
 
Amos 7.3 ESV
The LORD relented concerning this:
“It shall not be,” said the LORD.
 
Amos 7.6 ESV
The LORD relented concerning this:
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.
 
Jonah 3.10 ESV
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

That’s certainly not every case of God deciding he wasn’t gonna do as he originally said he would. I just did a really basic word-search of “relent.” You can dig further and find more examples; I certainly recall a few off the top of my head. God’s character doesn’t change, but God’s mind certainly can. Moses is far from the only guy to talk God out of things.

I trust that God is so almighty, he doesn’t need to micromanage the universe down to the very last string in order to get his way. I trust that God is so almighty, he doesn’t need to be “sovereign” in the way Calvinists imagine him to be (really, the way the despotic kings of France used to behave from Clovis 1 to Louis 16, which is why the people of France rightly overthrew the monarchy). I trust that the scriptures back me up in this belief more than they do the “doctrine of sovereignty.” Therefore I don’t trust the doctrine of sovereignty.

I admit I’d be more apt to, if it were an ancient doctrine dating back to the ancient Christians. But it’s not. The ancients believed all sorts of things about sovereignty. Some did believe God determines everything in the universe. But most of ’em didn’t, because they read their bibles. They knew Abraham, Moses, David, Hezekiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and various repentant petitioners were able to get God to switch plans.

The Calvinist “doctrine of sovereignty” can’t stand up to basic scrutiny, so of course I don’t trust it. Don’t trust Calvinists who are willing to bend both bible and reason to defend it. But God?—yes of course I trust God.

And there are lots of other doctrines, pitched by lots of other Christians, which I don’t trust either. They don’t always call them doctrines; often they prefer “biblical principles.” They likewise insist all true Christians believe and follow their principles, and if you don’t they’re gonna doubt your Christianity. And their principles are likewise wet, stinky rubbish. Likewise based on the preacher’s prejudices, plus selective, badly quoted bible verses. Likewise I don’t trust them. But God?—yeah, God’s really easy to trust compared to these numbnuts.

Good doctrine stands up to scrutiny.

Teachers of iffy and false doctrines would love it if we confused their “doctrines” and “principles” with make-or-break Christian teachings. Love it if we never questioned their teachings. Because after all, aren’t we supposedly people of faith? Doesn’t “faith” mean we set aside our very reasonable doubts, and just trust God?

And yes, there’s a place and time for us to stop doubting and trust God. Many places, many times. But these guys aren’t God, and their doctrines aren’t God either. We put our faith in God. These guys? Get real.

Humans, including fellow Christians, aren’t automatically trustworthy, and even the best of us make mistakes. That’s why the scriptures tell us they need to be confirmed. Every single time. Anyone who claims they’re an exception to the rule is trying to con you, and any Christian who tries to bully you into not double-checking a teacher or prophet, is either in on the con, or has been successfully conned. Don’t trust them. Trust God.

This Calvinist who expects me to swallow his doctrinal camel Mt 23.24 has, I figure, been successfully conned. He believes the only proper definition of “sovereignty” is the one Calvinists pitch; he believes the only proper way to understand and honor God is to recognize this “sovereignty”; he believes if I don’t understand God as he does, I believe in a weak and non-almighty God, and that’s unacceptable. As I’ve already said, I certainly don’t believe God is weak and non-almighty! In fact I believe God’s mightier than Calvinists imagine. I trust him without the additional crutch of the “doctrine of sovereignty.” It’s a crutch made of toothpicks anyway.

Now other doctrines, like the doctrine of the trinity, I take no issue with. I certainly don’t claim to understand the trinity, but I do understand it’s consistent with bible, affirms Jesus is God (which is important; gotta follow him!), the Holy Spirit is God (which is likewise important; gotta follow him too!), and there’s still only One God like the LORD kept reminding the Hebrews (which is likewise important; accept no substitutes!). It’s a tricky idea, but it withstands scrutiny far better than the “doctrine of sovereignty” does. Every doctrine should.

When they do, feel free to adopt ’em as your personal beliefs. Go ahead and trust them. Bear in mind you might be wrong about them; I’ve known many a Christian who trusted a doctrine, only to later discover they didn’t accurately understand that doctrine, so their trust has been just a bit misplaced. Maybe they should’ve remembered to not trust themselves. We humans can ruin all sorts of good things when we’re not careful.

But remember: It’s okay to scrutinize doctrines. It’s okay to doubt ’em for a while, and learn to trust them, same as you learn which Christians you can trust and which Christians you really shouldn’t. They’re not God. They only point to him.