Cage-Stage Calvinism: What Is It and What Causes It?

from Aug 22, 2015 Category: Articles

Cage-stage” describes an all too common phenomenon wherein a believer comes to embrace the doctrines of grace, and for a time becomes an obnoxious lout in defending the doctrines to all comers, whether they are interested or not. It suggests that such a newbie should spend some time in a cage until they calm down. If you are a Calvinist, you likely have been through this stage. If you are not, you surely have encountered those who were infected.

What causes Cage-stage Calvinism is a failure to believe Calvinism. Now I don’t mean to rattle any cages here, but I believe it’s true. It begins with a failure to believe in total depravity. The Cage Stager is frustrated, bent out of shape, often angry at the failure of others to embrace these biblical doctrines. But this biblical doctrine acknowledges that we all have difficulty embracing biblical doctrines. The Cage Stager seems to forget the battle with sin he not only continues to have, but the battle he only recently won, by God’s grace, in coming to embrace the doctrines of grace. He seems to reason, “What is wrong with those terrible, awful, good-for-nothing sinners that they refuse to see what I only recently came to see?”

Cage-stage Calvinism is likewise an implicit denial of unconditional election. That is, in our hearts we tend to see ourselves, as Calvinists, as peculiarly worthy recipients of God’s grace, as if He looked down the corridor of time, saw that we would in our wisdom come to embrace Calvinism and on that basis, chose us. Calvinists are not the elite soldiers of the kingdom. We were instead dead before the battle began, just like everyone else.

Do you see what these have in common? Cage-stage Calvinism, in the end, is the fruit of pride. We think too highly of ourselves, looking down our noses at others, and pat ourselves on the back for figuring it all out. Real Calvinism acknowledges our sin, our dependence on the grace of God not only to be redeemed, but to have any understanding of how we came to be redeemed. It recognizes and honors the grace and providence of God, affirming that the same sovereign God who brought us to saving faith revealed to us His sovereignty.

Real Calvinism likewise recognizes that the sovereign God who redeemed us redeems many who understand less than we do about the sovereignty of God. We don’t panic over the existence of non-Calvinists in the church, understanding that this too is part of His sovereign plan. It’s a good thing to be excited about learning more about the grace of God, the work of Christ, the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. And it is in fact a good thing to seek to help others understand as well. It is a bad thing, however, to lose sight of our need for grace and for graciousness.

Awakening to the sovereignty of God, truly, is a humbling experience, that bears the fruit of deeper repentance, deeper humility, deeper compassion. It bears the fruit of beauty, not ugliness, joy not anger. It releases us from the cage of pride, and equips us to serve the brethren. Cage-stage Calvinism has been and may yet be the sovereign plan of God. His revealed will, however, is that we would become more like Christ, who sets us free.

R.C. Sproul Jr. is rector and chair of philosophy and theology at Reformation Bible College. Originally published at