Before I get into how my own Calvinist theology can lead to paganism, I’d like to start with a quick look at Pelagianism. An old heresy from the time of the renowned Augustine (who aggressively opposed the teachings of the British monk, Pelagius), Pelagianism was a rejection of human sin nature. It seemed unfair to Pelagius that we would be unable to choose for ourselves how we act so he taught that we have free will; that we are born morally neutral. Sin nature being what it is, we are inclined to the evil of self-deception and we swallow our own lies that tell us that we aren’t so bad after all. We can easily think we are in charge of our own destiny, and therefore think that God follows our lead.
Using Greek mythology and legend, we can see this impulse of seeing humans taking the lead over deity being played out. In Homer’s Iliad, there are many pagan gods and goddesses who take part of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. While these false gods are seen as more powerful than mortals, they react based upon the actions of humans. They tend to follow the lead of humans. Pelagian thought reflects our self-taught lies like the old pagan Greeks. But there is another way we can see our human self-deception reflected in Greek mythology.
The Three Fates, goddesses that chose the length of a person’s life and how much suffering they would have to endure while they lived, were included in greek mythology approximately a century before the time that Isaiah was serving the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They personified the idea of fatalism, and were even included in Disney’s 1997 animated film, Hercules. Fatalism says that all events are inevitable, and therefore as humans we can do nothing to change the outcome of events. True to our current culture’s leaning, Disney had Hercules challenging the Fates. Yet for cultures that embrace fatalism, Islamic dominated cultures for example, there is a true belief in inevitability. Islam, continuing to use this modern example, chalks it’s fatalism up to the “will of Allah”.
Calvinism is counter-cultural to both ways of seeing the world. While we live in a time where we celebrate human achievement and individual human ability, we see God has sovereign rule over all. He does “all that he pleases”. This puts us at odds with the prevalent western cultural ideas of free will. Yet if we take the idea of sovereignty in a way that is unclarified by Scripture, we can end up acting like ancient pagans or modern Muslims. What I mean to say here is that true Calvinism is not Fatalism. When Calvinism becomes fatalistic, it is really a kind of hyper-calvinism that mimics paganism, not Scripture.
God reigns, and He is living. He is immutable in essence and character, yet is not constrained to do something that is outside of His pleasure. Our God is personal, with each of the three Persons of the Trinity engaged in (wonder of wonders) saving us. Our prayers to Him impact both us and the world around us. God is living, accomplishing His will, involving us in His will, and then allowing us through prayer and actions to impact how that will is accomplished.
I suspect that much of our failings with evangelism, prayer, and service to one another comes from a fatalism that leads to apathy. The truth is that we can fully rest in the Sovereign rule of our God who ordains all things, while recognizing that our actions are viable, meaningful, and effective. We can, and should, reject fatalism with the same intensity that we reject Pelagianism, for both are fatally flawed. This King who reigns is more than a distant, powerful Ruler who has authority over all things, though He is that. He is also a present Father, whom loves and personally interacts with His children.