It is a funny thing, and I am not sure if this is only a feature of Baptist seminaries, but it seems as though every professor must, regardless of the class, say at least once in that class that Calvin was not a Calvinist. Most of time, the professor makes the claim and nonchalantly moves on as though he had just made a statement tantamount to the sky is blue, and as if Calvinists were running about declaring that the world is flat. Therefore, since I have not ever heard from the horse’s mouth why Calvin was not a Calvinist, I have had to assume that they who claimed thus meant one of two things:
1. Calvin Did Not Hold to Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption)
I have heard this claim made–that Calvin never made any statements regarding particular redemption, and that it was Theodore Beza and company who made the whole thing up. Those who claim thus, should read Calvin before they say such things, for in his commentary on 1 John 2:1, where the apostle writes that Christ was the propitiation for the whole world, Calvin writes:
Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world (Commentary on 1 John 2:1).
It is clear that Calvin sees the extension of Christ’s work as efficient for the elect realized and the elect not yet realized scattered about the globe and excludes from its efficiency the reprobate.¹
2. Calvin Was More Profound than the Five Points
This must be granted without hesitancy. Calvin’s theology was much more broad and rich than the classic five points will ever be. There is, however, something inherent in such a statement that is itself untrue, namely that those who claim to be Calvinists can be summed up in five points. To claim thus for all Calvinists would be as unfair as someone claiming that all Baptists hold to three points: baptism by immersion, abstinence from alcohol, and fried chicken. These three points, while obviously holding true for many Baptists, are not boundaries in which all Baptists live and move and have their being. The same is true of the five points for Calvinists. For, it is not as though the followers of Calvin, Augustine, Paul, and Jesus sat down and said, “Let us think of five doctrines that will define us,” but the five points originated as a response at Dordt to the five points of the Arminian heresy. The five points were therefore a particular application of Calvinist theology to a particular issue, just as today the Baptist Faith & Message contains in its parts applications of Baptist theology to certain issues that are presently prevalent.
I now have two points of application for you who would be wise. One, please do not go around saying that Calvin was not a Calvinist simply because you heard someone else say it. Just because it is spoken on a seminary campus does not pontify it. Second, even though Servetus deserved it, do not spend your life criticizing men of God for their various shortcomings. I, for one, would much rather have a man who was faithful to the Word of God his whole life and burned one heretic, than many in our country today who do not burn heretics but are leading hundreds and thousands to eternal burning by their pansy-fied and false preaching.
¹ cf. 2Pet. 3:9; for a further treatment on the nature and extent of the work of Christ, go here.