Pastor, Why? #7: Why Aren't We "Calvinists"?

The March 2009, Time Magazine cover story was titled, “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” Third on the list was “The New Calvinism”. To quote the article: “Calvinism is back! John Calvin's 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism... is evangelicalism's latest success story.” Ted Olsen, an editor of Christianity Today Magazine is quoted in the article as saying, "Everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world: with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle's pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs… are among cyber-Christendom's hottest links.”

This current trend raises a good question, “Is our church ‘Calvinist’? And if not, why not?”

We are not “Calvinists” because we do not adhere to John Calvin’s five core teachings regarding salvation as summarized by Calvin’s followers in 1619 at the Synod of Dort, and commonly referred to by the acrostic, “T-U-L-I-P”. These five doctrines are:

 

Total Depravity of Man - Calvin taught that mankind is so depraved and spiritually dead that no person can ever hear or desire God.

  • The Bible does say the heart of man is evil, that he does not naturally seek God, cannot understand spiritual truth, and is dead in sin. (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; John 6:44; Romans 3:10-18; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:3-4)
  • But the Bible also says man can hear God and has a choice, beginning with the first fallen sinner, Adam, who, though he was spiritually dead (Gen. 2:17), responded to the call of God (Genesis 3:9; Romans 6:16-19; 10:13-14). Spiritual death does not mean total inability to respond but spiritual separation from God (Luke 15:24, 18; Acts 15:16-17; Romans 1:20).

  Calvin extended the depravity of man beyond what the Bible teaches to mean, not just total depravity, but total inability of man to hear or choose God, a belief with which we disagree.

 

Unconditional Election - Calvin taught that God has chosen (“elected, predestined”) a definite number of people to be saved, and that man has no choice, “free will” or responsibility in the matter. “Eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others.” [- Calvin’s Institutes, Book III, ch. 23, based on Romans 9:21]

  • The Bible does say God has chosen men to salvation. (Acts 13:48; John 1:13; Romans 8:29-30; 9:10-15; Ephesians 1:4-12; 2 Thess. 2:13)
  • But the Bible also says man must personally choose to receive salvation. (Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 4:18-20; 19:21; John 3:16-17, 36; Acts 8:36-37; 16:30-31; Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17)

  Furthermore the Bible says God’s will is for all to be saved, not just some.   (John 1:12; 3:17; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9)

 

The solution is not either/or, but, inexplicably, both.

Like the seeming contradiction of Jesus’ absolute humanity and perfect deity, the answer to “Election vs. Free Will” is not either/or, but both. God has chosen men by His grace and sovereign will, and man also chooses God by grace through faith in His Word. Hell was not created for men (Matt. 25:41), and no man is in hell who did not have an opportunity for heaven (Romans 1:20). God is still “God”, and there are some matters about God that we cannot fully explain, including the paradoxes of His actions and character.

 

Limited Atonement   - Calvin taught that Christ’s atoning death was only for the “chosen, the elect, His sheep, and the church”, based on Matthew 26:2, 25:32-33, John 10:15 and Acts 20:28.

  But the Bible never says these were all He died for. In fact it clearly states that Christ died “for the sins of the whole world”. (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 John 2:2; 4:14; Hebrews 2:9)

Irresistible Grace - Calvin taught that it is impossible for the “elect" to reject God’s salvation. (John 1:12-13; Acts 13:48; Romans 9:16)

  But the Bible says many can and do resist the draw of the Holy Spirit to salvation. (Proverbs 1:24-25; Matthew 23:37; Mark 10:21-22; Acts 7:51)

Perseverance of the Saints - Calvin taught that if one is chosen, it is impossible for him to become unchosen. “The election made by God can neither be suspended nor altered, revoked, or annulled....”

[- Synod of Dort, Article 11]

  We agree with Calvin’s conclusion that a child of God can never be lost, not based on the false premise of “Unconditional Election,” but on the true promises of God. (John 10:27-28; 6:47; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Romans 8:1; Ephesians 4:30; Philippians 1:6; Heb. 12:2; 1 John 5:4)


An element of truth exists in all five points of Calvinism, but we do not hold any of them in the manner or to the extent that John Calvin taught them. Calvin’s conclusions are not founded solely on the Bible but in large part on logic apart from the Bible, while sidestepping other clear passages of Scripture. This is why it seems that few embrace his theology through Bible study alone, but by the writings of Calvin and his followers.