Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is all of Calvin all of Calvinism?

Someone recently remarked something along these lines to me: "I don't gravitate toward Calvinism because I don't like some things believed or held to by John Calvin."

That got me thinking.

First, a little on Calvin.

While Calvin is respected as a mighty theologian even by those holding to differing theological persuasions, he was not an angel sent from heaven. Just a man. A man who God mightily used. Indeed, Calvin was a man bursting at the seams seeking to reclaim, and proclaim, the great and cardinal truths of Scripture long held in obscurity and violently opposed by those who for a pretense paraded themselves as the servants of the most High God. He saw through this or, more accurately, God enabled him to see the truth - and when he did, the errors leaped out, as did the truth, again and again as he poured over the Scriptures, being guided by the Spirit of God. And he fought this fight, by the Lord's grace, with what the Lord had given him: a mind capable of great things and molded by grace and purpose to the task of whole Biblical exposition. While one may not agree with every satellite position John Calvin held to, it's my belief that the cardinal things he held to are the cardinal things to hold to.

Second, a little on the term "Calvinism".

While many erroneously (and understandably so) think that John Calvin invented "Calvinism", Calvin the man had actually been dead 50 years before the 5 points of Calvinism were framed! The label "Calvinism" was at first a tag conjured up years after Calvin's death by opponents to the free sovereign grace of God in salvation. These opponents were called "Arminians" and followed the teachings of James Arminius, a Dutch professor who had died in 1610 (source: The Five Points of Calvinism, WJ Seaton). “The Five Points of Arminianism were presented to the State and a National Synod of the church was called to meet in Dort in 1618 to examine the teaching of Arminius in the light of the Scriptures. The Synod of Dort sat for 154 sessions over a period of seven months, but at the end could find no ground on which to reconcile the Arminian viewpoint with that expounded in the Word of God. Reaffirming the position so unmistakably put forth at the Reformation, and formulated by the French theologian John Calvin, the Synod of Dort formulated its Five Points of Calvinism to counter the Arminian system” (source: ibid).

The Cardinal things

It's true that John Calvin believed in the free sovereign grace of God in salvation (the essence of Calvinism). However, it's equally true that Calvinism does not speak of everything John Calvin taught. In other words, some things John Calvin taught were, as it were, satellites to the cardinal things and therefore things to which Christian charity and liberty must be exercised amongst brethren, even in our day (I am thinking, for example, of forms of government and baptism, etc). Thus, saying that one doesn't hold to Calvinism because they don't like some things held by John Calvin is a bit like saying, "I don't hold to driving a Ford because I don't like some things held by Henry Ford." To reiterate and emphasize, while one may not agree with every satellite position that John Calvin held to, the cardinal things he held to are the cardinal things to hold to -- and such things are encapsulated wonderfully in Calvinism. In short, Calvin was a mere man; gifted, and a gift as he was. The Doctrines of Grace (another and perhaps better name for Calvinism) reflect a vital part of Calvin's theological heartbeat, but not all of him. That is why C.H. Spurgeon, who was a credo-baptist (i.e. believer's baptism by emersion; Calvin was paedo-Baptist and believed in infant baptism, though not regenerative baptism), could say unhesitantly of The 5 Points of Calvinism that they are "surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus."

I submit that we ought not to dismiss "Calvinism" because of its label, a tag originally coined by its opponents 400 years ago. While I prefer the term “Doctrines of Grace”, the term Calvinism is a nickname that, when those using it are properly informed, holds no disconnect to the Biblically sound doctrine it contends for nor the cardinal and chief things most surely believed by Calvin the man.

For an overview of the Doctrines of Grace ("Calvinism"), please read WJ Seaton’s excellent little booklet prayerfully, now online.

Sola Scriptura


Camille said...

You are such a blessing to me! Thanks for all the instruction in Truth and Righteousness!!


FaithAlways.. said...

Thanks for posting this.