An Interesting Pickle: Accept Free Will and Become Catholic?

I did not grow up Calvinist. Though I knew of it, I never gave it much attention. From the beginning the whole thing sounded wrong. However, in college I had a sudden influx of friends who were either Calvinist or seriously considering it. Finding myself unexpectedly surrounded by Calvinists and conversing about it, I wondered if God was trying to tell me something so I began to look into that theology myself. To keep a long story short, after Biblical studies, ponderings, and many conversations, I decided to continue rejecting it.

As time went on I began noticing complications. I rejected Calvinism and attended non-Calvinist churches, yet the basic theology of “faith alone” was still there as well as a sense that one could not lose one’s salvation short of a complete 180° rejection. Sin in the life of the believer was often not seen as something that could cost a believer his soul. Sin was presented as hurting our “relationship” with Jesus but did not effect a loss of salvation. Sermons or Bible studies would come across any of the multiple Bible verses that demand the Christian to live a moral and righteous life and, almost without fail, preceding or succeeding the exposition of these verses would be a disclaimer saying something like, “Not that we are saved by our works, obviously, etc. etc. etc.”

Meanwhile, I was left pondering the relationship between faith and works. Works and righteousness are clearly commanded in the Bible. It seems Jesus strongly suggests works are necessary for salvation.[i] The Book of James is about practically nothing but works in the life of a Christian and straight up says we are “justified by works and not by faith alone.”[ii] The Apostle John says that there is sin that leads to death.[iii] Paul warns the Galatian Christians to live righteously or they will not inherit the kingdom of God.[iv] Baptism is clearly a requirement for salvation in the New Testament[v], which means something must be done—a “work” according to most Protestants.

With the recent considerations of Catholicism, it was initially frustrating—though now it is becoming amusing—how a Protestant apologist will say something like “One should reject Romanism because it does not follow Biblical teaching. True Biblical teaching is x, y, and z.” Meanwhile, x, y, and z is Calvinistic. Thus I am left pondering, “I myself have rejected these notions as unbiblical so I can’t hold Catholicism ‘unbiblical’ on these issues if they too reject them.” It puts me in a weird position.

As part of my attempts to learn all sides, I recently checked out from the library a DVD called “Amazing Grace: The History & Theology of Calvinism.” It interviewed some fairly famous Calvinist theologians and apologists about the history and doctrine of Calvinism. One thing I found interesting is their opinion on Arminianism, which is a version of Protestant theology that accepts free will. Take these examples:

R.C. Sproul said,

The Reformers felt that if they acquiesced to the protests—the Remonstrations—of the Arminians at that time, that in a very real way they would have been putting their feet back on a path to Rome. Now let me clarify that. I don’t think any of them believed that Arminianism was, or is today, Roman Catholicism. We’re talking about putting your feet on a path that goes in a certain direction.

D. James Kennedy said,

And if once you acknowledge free will, which Luther and all of the other Reformers denied, then you open the door for all of the various Roman Catholic heresies that came along as well as that one.

This analysis of the situation is reminiscent of a story told by Scott Hahn. While Hahn was still a Protestant attending seminary, a professor told the class that the entire Reformation hinged upon the doctrine of “faith alone” and quipped that if that doctrine were disproved he would be the first to knock on the doors of the Vatican for entry. Hahn said they would all laugh—“What rhetoric!”—but as his further studies in theology began to show that faith alone was not Biblical Hahn was drawn further into the Catholic Church.

It’s no wonder Calvinists are so militant in rejecting free will. Apparently to accept free will is to put one on a path leading to Rome. And since Catholicism is obviously wrong (duh!), free will must be rejected too, right? Playing the Roman card will probably have an effect on those determined not to be Catholic—“I don’t want to be Catholic so maybe I had better reject free will”—but it’s not going to help someone who has already rejected Calvinism and is considering Catholicism. In fact, it only confirms certain suspicions.

[i] For example, Matt. 7:21; Matt. 25:31-46

[ii] James 2:24

[iii] 1 John 5:16-17

[iv] Gal. 5:16-26

[v] For example, Mark 16:16; John 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21


7 thoughts on “An Interesting Pickle: Accept Free Will and Become Catholic?

  1. Scott Hahn’s book Rome Sweet Home was amazing. I’m glad God spared me the theology road to the Catholic church, I had no choice in the matter, God made me a Catholic, the studying came later. In fact when I became a Catholic, I didn’t even know anything about Catholicism. Talk about walking by faith, craziness I tell you. Best of luck on your journey. Keep listening to God, He’s the only one that has the answers you are seeking.

    • Thank you for your encouragement. I envy your child-like faith. Sometimes I think I confuse myself and go in circles. Life often doesn’t turn out how we want and that makes me question things. But the first century Jews rejected Jesus because they had come to expect a conquering Messiah that would throw off the shackles of the Roman Empire but He came as a child which did not live up to their expectations. Maybe we need to ease off having expectations from God because He’ll do as He pleases and we just need to follow. Is that too cynical?

      • I think you’re on to something 🙂 When I felt the tugging for something more I went into a time of spiritual isolation with God, like my own Patmos. Another blogger heard my questions in between the in between and recommended I read several books on St. Edith Stein. This blogger friend of mine is not even a Catholic, but she felt the Holy Spirit move her to rec commend these three books to me.
        My transformation happened over a period of time, but began with totally abandoning myself to the truth, and to shutting out man’s opinion on what that was. It was a desperately sweet, intimate time with God for me. He gave me an answer at the end of it that I never expected.
        Six months before I became a Catholic God woke me up and said, “If I ask you to do something and you don’t know what it is will you still say yes?”
        Of course Lord, of course Lord.
        Will you say yes to me now without knowing what it is?
        Yes! I said.
        I was deliciously hungry for the truth. I didn’t answer the call to Christ as a Jew just to stop where I was at. I felt a prompting and followed it without study or theology or any of that, which was hard for me as an attorney, and as Protestant. As you said, I became a child and abandoned myself to His will.
        A couple weeks after I started going to the Catholic church I became frantic- books everywhere, not eating, little sleep, I was so scared. What was I doing? My heart started to race, I am responsible, for this for my husband and children, for all the people that look up to me. I started to panic.
        In the midst of several books, puffy eyes, sleepless nights and the like, my husband said something to me that I’ll never forget which the Holy Spirit is telling me to share with you. Keep in mind my husband at that point had never stepped foot in a Catholic church and still isn’t a Catholic. He said,”Put away your books, your research. Put it all away. He brought you here and in time all of your questions will be answered, but not like this, not all in one day. What are you going to do anyway? He’s already spoken, go to sleep.” And I did, and I never looked back.
        I start RCIA in two weeks and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’ve lost a lot, but isn’t that what he said would happen when we follow him? Yes of course study and theology is important and we have to have a subjective truth to lead our lives by. But that’s why we have Him, to lead us, to guide us, and to bring us where we need to be.
        I would never have heard him if I stayed in those books. I eased out of my research and into prayer-into His loving arms.
        Do what He tells you to do, go where He leads you. Sit at Adoration of the blessed sacrament, sit with him while He prays. Let go and let God.
        May God bless your journey, wherever that may lead. I am here if you need anything.

  2. Hey,

    Great article! I really like its fluidity and clarity. I wish I had that talent since I constantly entering in dialogs with fellow protestant friends and I can be let say a bit dry!

    I am sure you have heard of Dr. Peter Kreeft. He is a former Calvinist and great Catholic theologian. Like Scott Hahn everything he puts out there is simply brilliant. I often refer to his talk 7 reason to be catholic to model my discussions. Another great resource, which you are probably also aware of is Dr. David Anders, another former Calvinist. He has a show on EWTN called Call to Communion. His explanations are always deep in scripture. His website is

    Well I am glad that I reconnected to your blog! Great job!



    • HI Caleb! Thank you for the kind words and encouragement.

      Peter Kreeft’s talk “Seven Reasons to be Catholic” was a very good talk. He brought up some things that cannot be ignored easily. I have heard of David Anders and perused his site a bit but I have not read his work very extensively. There is so much good stuff to read within Catholicism. It keeps me too busy.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. This will sound odd, but, in the early modern period, there really was no real debate between Roman Catholics and Reformed Christians concerning predestination and reprobation. *Even* Luis de Molina believes that God decrees who will be saved and who will be lost. Furthermore, Molina believes that this decree does not depend upon foreseen merits or foreseen faith.

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