I am a blogger, and as such, when I write I do not write as one does when he writes a book–formally and systematically–but my posts are seemingly sporadic and generally reflect certain topics that are raised from day to day from diverse places. Also, when I write, sometimes I address particular audiences, e.g. teachers, leaders, Christians, etc, and attempt to make it clear which audience I am addressing in the post. However, it is most often the case that many different audiences read the posts that I write, and, despite my best efforts, certain audiences that were not intended to be addressed feel as though they were and make conclusions about the post based upon that feeling. And sometimes when I address certain audiences, I use particular terminology that would be familiar to one audience and unfamiliar to another, and oftentimes an audience which is unfamiliar with the jargon specific to another audience is engaged with it, and they react negatively toward it though it may be truth.
In this post I am going to explain some of the jargon that is used by those with theological training and attempt to bridge the gap and clarify some misunderstandings. This language is often used by those who are trained in seminaries, and, to be frank, I detest that it is this way. Personally, I am not in favor of the existence of seminaries, because they divide God’s church into priests and laypersons, and, because of this divide, there flows from it a sort of arrogance and superiority that is not healthy to the church. I believe wholeheartedly that the church, not seminaries, should be the instructor of doctrine, and it has come to the point where many who have come from seminaries do not believe doctrine is beneficial to the church and therefore do not teach it. This however is an entirely false notion, and in this post I am seeking to share the doctrines commonly labeled by theologians as “Calvinism” to all of God’s people for their understanding and edification. I have addressed certain frequently asked questions in this post, and I may add more as they come to mind or are asked of me. I pray that you will find this of benefit and will share it with others who may have similar questions. To God alone be the glory. Amen.
1. Where does the term “Calvinist” come from?
2. Why do men follow the teachings of Calvin today?
3. What is the heart of Calvinism?
4. Why are Calvinists so fond of tulips?
5. What would Calvinists do without Romans 9?
6. Was John Calvin a Calvinist?
7. Do Calvinists believe that Calvinism is the Gospel?
8. Do Calvinists believe that non-Calvinists are going to hell?
9. What is the difference between the Calvinist Gospel and the popular gospel preached today?
10. Does Calvinism make God to blame for sin, and how can men be held responsible?
11. Do Calvinists believe that Christ only died for those whom he chose to save?
12. Do Calvinists not believe in evangelism or the Great Commission?
1. Where does the term “Calvinist” come from? [Top]
The term “Calvinist” comes from the theologian John Calvin who was a pastor in Geneva, Switzerland shortly after the Protestant Reformation began. He wrote extensively in his life, writing both a systematic theology (a multi-book work on the doctrines of Christianity) entitled “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” and commentaries on the entire Bible except Revelation, because, he, in his humility said that he did not understand the book well enough to write a commentary on it. All of these works are still in print and are used by many today.
2. Why do men follow the teachings of Calvin today? [Top]
If you think about the history surrounding the time of John Calvin, it is really not difficult to see why many Christians who believe that the Bible alone is the authoritative Word of God are labeled “Calvinists.” Just decades prior to Calvin, Luther had nailed his “95 Theses” to the Castle Church at Wittenberg, and the break from the heresies of the Catholic church was just beginning to come about. Calvin was the first theologian after the start of the Reformation to write an extensive theology of biblical Christianity, and as such, those who followed biblical Christianity were labeled “Calvinists” by those who opposed the Reformation. The name stuck, and it is now a term of convenience, for when one speaks of Calvinism, those familiar with the teachings and the history know precisely what is meant.
3. What is the heart of Calvinism? [Top]
Often when Calvinism is brought up in conversation, the first thought that comes to the minds of many is predestination. While it is indeed true that Calvinists believe in predestination, that is not the heart of Calvinism. The heart of Calvinism in short is, “What men could not do, God did” (cf. Rm. 8:1-4). In other words, men, because of sin, are in such a terrible state that they can do nothing to justify themselves before a holy God. Therefore, if God is going to save a soul, he must do all the work from beginning to end, and men, because of God’s work in them, believe in Jesus Christ and repent from sin and worldliness. Therefore, God alone receives the glory for his saving sinners, and saved sinners rejoice and boast in God alone.
4. Why are Calvinists so fond of tulips? [Top]
There is an acrostic that many use to define Calvinism that forms the word “TULIP,” however this acrostic is not summation of Calvinist doctrine as is commonly believed. The “Five Points of Calvinism,” as they are commonly called, was not devised by Calvin at all, but they were actually formed in response to the five false teachings of those who followed a man named Jacob Arminius, one teaching which was that men could lose their salvation after they were saved by Christ. Thus, at the Synod of Dordt, biblical teachers of the church responded to these doctrines with the “Five Points” which in English are rendered: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Because of the desire of some to force fit these points into the TULIP acrostic, some of the terms leave much to be desired. Many instead render these doctrines in English as: Radical Depravity, Unconditional Election, Particular Redemption, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. I will refrain from explaining each for the time being.
5. What would Calvinists do without Romans 9? [Top]
Many allege that the basis for Calvinism come from Romans 9 alone, where the apostle Paul speaks of God having mercy on whomever he wills and hardening whomever he wills, and that “Salvation depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy” (Rm. 9:16). This however is a false claim, for the teachings of the Calvinist Gospel are found throughout Scripture and very clearly in the teachings of Christ. I jokingly made a comment to a friend that a few weeks ago I taught through Romans 6-8 and taught the Calvinist Gospel without touching Romans 9, and he laughed and said, “You do not need Romans 9 to do it.” This is indeed true, for Scripture is very clear in its teachings of the Gospel.
6. Was John Calvin a Calvinist? [Top]
In my many years at a Baptist seminary, I have heard it said many times by different professors that John Calvin was not a Calvinist. While it does not matter in the least whether or not Calvin was or was not a Calvinist, for we do not follow a man but Jesus Christ, I nevertheless addressed this false conclusion of those who obviously have not read Calvin as well as they ought to have had here.
7. Do Calvinists believe that Calvinism is the Gospel? [Top]
While there are some differing views among those who call themselves “Calvinists” with regard to whether or not Calvinism is indeed the Gospel, I myself say as the beloved, English Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon said, “Calvinism is the Gospel.” For if we do believe that the very heart of Calvinism is that God through Christ has done what men could never do and everything else in Calvinism is a fleshing out of that glorious truth, then Calvinism is very much the Gospel preached faithfully. Which leads us to the next question…
8. Do Calvinists believe that non-Calvinists are going to hell? [Top]
The answer to this question is a resounding, “No.” No man has to affirm the “Five Points of Calvinism” or to understand all of its beliefs to be admitted into heaven. For we hold that men are not saved by works and neither are they saved by theological rightness, but they are saved through the merits of Christ alone. As no man will be sinless in this life, so no man will be perfect with regards to this understanding of God and his salvation. The basis of salvation rests totally in the work of the Spirit of God in the heart of a person to look upon Christ alone as his Savior, and that happens apart from a perfect understanding of right doctrine. With that said, I have no doubt that some who call themselves Calvinists are in fact not children of God (as is evidenced by the fruits of their lives), and many who do not call themselves Calvinists are in fact children of God (as is evidenced by their fruits). However, I do believe that many who call themselves Christians who are not Calvinists have bought into the lie that men are saved by affirming historical facts about Jesus Christ and by saying the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer.” Many who have done these things and “accepted Jesus as their personal Savior” have done so at one time and have gone on to live unholy and worldly lives without any rebuke from a pastor or teacher. This teaching that men can be saved and not be changed by the Spirit of God is a lie from the pit of hell, for the Gospel call has always been, “Believe and repent” not “Affirm some doctrines, pray a special prayer, and believe ‘Once saved, always saved’ without any regard for the fruits of the Spirit.” The Gospel always brings unrighteous men to righteousness, and to claim otherwise is to preach a false gospel.
9. What is the difference between the Calvinist Gospel and the popular gospel preached today? [Top]
While there are many differences between the Gospel that Calvinists preach and that which is popularly preached today, the chief difference is whether or not men have a free will that can choose Jesus Christ. The Calvinist teaches that men do have a will, but that will is not free. In other words, men make decisions all the time, but they are not free in their own power to choose Jesus Christ. The Calvinist believes that true faith is that which comes from the heart (cf. Rm. 10:8) brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Ez. 36:26, 27). Men apart from God love darkness rather than light (cf. Jn. 1:9-14, 3:19) and are born slaves to sin (cf. Rm. 5:12-25), and therefore, “No one understands, no one seeks for God” (Rm. 3:11). Therefore, for anyone to believe, Christ must speak that faith into existence (cf. Rm. 10:17), and God must speak sight of faith into existence just as he spoke light into existence at the creation (cf. 2Cor. 4:6). Therefore, faith is gift from God.
The popular gospel today however teaches that faith is work of man rather than a work of God. Charles Finney, the man from whom we get many of our popular doctrines, called faith the “first work” of the Christian. By doing thus, by making faith a work of man’s free will rather than a work of God, justification is accomplished by the work of faith not by the work of God. Rather than faith being the response of dead men to the special revelation of God, faith is the work of living men to make themselves right with God. It is at its core a gospel where men meet God halfway rather than God accomplishing salvation fully and freely so that he alone gets the glory. Therefore, men can boast in their faith despite the apostle Paul’s declaration that all man-centered boasting is excluded from the Gospel (cf. Rm. 3:17; Eph. 2:8, 9) and despite our Lord’s declaration, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn. 6:44).
It is for this reason that the Gospel of our Lord has been distorted and manipulated to this day. For if salvation comes from making a free decision and not from the work of God alone, then all we have to do as Gospel preachers is persuade men to believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore, when many preach, they do not preach repentance, because repentance makes it harder to sell the Gospel. Therefore they say instead, “Pray to receive Christ as your personal Savior and let him into your heart,” though no such language is found at all in the words of Christ or the apostles. They therefore speak much of hell and much of the riches of heaven, but they speak little of turning away from sin and denying one’s self and taking up his cross. These think that by getting men to say a ritualistic prayer that these will be saved by that prayer, because faith is a work of man. Therefore, if a man prays such a prayer, they pronounce him saved and assure him by saying, “Once save, always saved,” and care little about that man’s growth in holiness. It is hit-and-run evangelism, despite the command of our Lord to make loyal and obedient disciples not nominal converts (cf. Mt. 28:18-20).
10. Does Calvinism make God to blame for sin, and how can men be held responsible? [Top]
The objection is often raised, “If men cannot choose Christ, and God alone causes a person to believe in Christ, how then can they be held accountable for not choosing Christ?” I shall answer to question in two parts. First, despite the popular teaching that men are going to held accountable to whether or not they believe in Christ, men are not held accountable for believing or not believing in Christ, but they are held accountable for their sin. Romans 2 deals with this clearly declaring that men are going to be judged according to their deeds not by whether or not they chose or rejected Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not, as many make it out to be, a new law to be kept, but it is the remedy for unrighteousness. To give an analogy, those who die from cancer do not die because they do not have the cure, but they die from cancer, The Gospel comes in as cure for the disease of sin, and men die and are judged not because of the lack of the cure of the Gospel, but because of the disease of sin and unrighteousness.
Second, the Calvinist does not claim to know all the ways of God, indeed he declares that men are creatures and God is the Creator, and therefore his thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways (cf. Is. 55:8). We do not have the answer for all of life’s questions, and we dare not question our Creator. Therefore when the objection is made against the ways of God in Romans 9, the apostle Paul writes:
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to then, “Why does he still find fault, for who can resist his will? But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make know his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known his the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory–even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles (Rm. 9:18-24).
Indeed, who are we as men to answer back to the ways of God? If we are to come to God, we must come humbly as children recognizing who we are and who he is. We must respond in awe and fear, praising him who bestowed his mercy upon us, not arrogantly presuming that we as men can put God in the dock. We must, at the end, declare as the apostle did:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Rm. 11:33-36).
11. Do Calvinists believe that Christ only died for those whom he chose to save? [Top]
This is a complex issue, and many Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike have simplified the answer beyond what Scripture declares. The answer is both yes and no, and I have dealt with the issue thoroughly here.
12. Do Calvinists not believe in evangelism or the Great Commission? [Top]
It is often charged that if God alone saves sinners, what is the point of preaching the Gospel? Well, the point of preaching the Gospel is, as the apostle Paul declared, not chiefly the salvation of souls, but it is spreading the fragrance of Christ around the world (cf. 2Cor. 2:14-17). Calvinists evangelize not chiefly because they wish to save souls, but they do so to magnify the name of Christ in all the earth. Just as God proclaimed his name to the world through the hardening of Pharaoh (cf. Ex. 9:16), so now God proclaims his name through the preaching of Jesus Christ. We preach this message in season and out of season (cf. 2Tim. 4:2), whether God grants a great harvest or not. For our message is and always will be “to one a fragrance from death to death, and to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2Cor. 2:16). We are simply called to be faithful in preaching the Gospel and to allow God to cause the growth (cf. 1Cor. 3:6).
In addition, the charge is false because some of the most esteemed missionaries and evangelists were Calvinists. This includes William Carey (who is called the father of modern missions), David Brainerd, Andrew Fuller, Lottie Moon, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, and countless others. To say that Calvinists do not desire to preach the Gospel of our Lord and to reach the nations for Christ is simply a unfounded and venomous lie.