1. Calvinism is not a system of theology that denies God’s universal love.
While there are some Calvinists who do deny God’s universal love for all men, this is certainly not a necessary or a central tenet of Calvinism. Calvinists do, however, believe that God has a particular type of love for the elect (an “electing love”), but most also believe that God loves all people (John 3:16). It is a mystery to Calvinists as to why he does not elect everyone. (More on this here.)
2. Calvinism is not a belief that God creates people in order to send them to hell.
Again, this is not representative of normative Calvinism. While supralapsarians do believe that God creates people to send them to hell, the majority of Calvinists are not supralapsarians. (More on this here.)
3. Calvinism is not a belief that God is the author of evil.
Because of Calvinism’s high view of God’s sovereignty, many mistakenly believe that Calvinists hold God responsible for sin and evil. This is not true. There are very few Calvinists who believe that God is the author of evil. Most Calvinists believe that to ascribe responsibility for evil to God is unorthodox.
As John Calvin put it:
“. . . the Lord had declared that ‘everything that he had made . . . was exceedingly good’ [Gen. 1:31]. Whence, then comes this wickedness to man, that he should fall away from his God? Lest we should think it comes from creation, God had put His stamp of approval on what had come forth from himself. By his own evil intention, then, man corrupted the pure nature he had received from the Lord; and by his fall drew all his posterity with him into destruction. Accordingly, we should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity-which is closer to us-rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination. [Institutes, 3:23:8]”
4. Calvinism is not a belief in fatalism.
A fatalistic worldview is one in which all things are left to fate, chance, and a series of causes and effects that has no intelligent guide or ultimate cause. Calvinism believes that God (not fate) is in control, though Calvinists differ about how meticulous this control is.
5. Calvinism is not a denial of freedom.
Calvinists do not believe that people are robots or puppets on strings. Calvinists believe in freedom and, properly defined, free will. While Calvinists believe that God is ultimately in control of everything, most are compatibilists, believing that he works in and with human freedom (limited though it may be). Calvinists believe in human responsibility at the same time that they hold a high view of God’s providential sovereignty. (More on this here.)
6. Calvinism is not a belief that God forces people to become Christians against their will.
Calvinists believe in what is called “irresistible grace.” This might not be the best name for it since it does not really communicate what is involved. Calvinists believe that people are dead in their sin (Eph 2:1), haters of God, with no ability to seek him in their natural state (Rom 3:11; John 6:44; 1 Cor 2:14). Since this is the case, God must first regenerate them so that they can have faith. Once regenerate, people do not need to be forced to accept God, but this is a natural reaction—a willing reaction—of one who has been born again and, for the first time, recognizes the beauty of God. That is an action that they will always choose due to their new inclinations.
7. Calvinism is not a belief that you should only evangelize the elect.
No one knows who the elect are. I suppose that if there was a way to find out, both Calvinists and Arminians (the main alternative to Calvinism) would only evangelize the elect (since Arminians also believe only the elect will be saved even though they understand election differently). Since we don’t know, it is our duty to evangelize all people and nations. Some of the greatest evangelists in the history of Christianity, such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards, have held to the doctrine of unconditional election.
8. Calvinism is not a belief that God arbitrarily chooses people to be saved.
Calvinists believe that God elects some people to salvation and not others and that this election is not based on anything present or foreseen, righteous or unrighteous, in the individual, but upon God’s sovereign choice (Rom. 9:11). But this does not mean that the choice is arbitrary, as if God is flipping a coin to see who is saved and who is not. Calvinists believe that God has his reasons, but they are in his mysterious secret will.
9. Calvinism is not a system of thought that follows a man, John Calvin.
While Calvinists obviously respect John Calvin, they simply believe that he correctly understood and systematized some very important Apostolic teachings concerning election, man’s condition, and God’s sovereignty. However, much of this understanding did not originate with John Calvin, but can be seen in many throughout church history such as Aquinas, Anselm, and Augustine. Ultimately, Calvinists will argue, they follow rightly interpreted Scripture.
10. Calvinism is not a system that has to ignore or reinterpret passages of Scripture concerning human responsibility.
Calvinists believe that all people are responsible to do what is right even though, as fallen children of Adam, they lack the ability to do what is right (in a transcendent sense; see below) without God’s regenerating grace. Therefore, God’s call and commands apply to all people and all people are responsible for their rejection and rebellion. It is upon this basis that judgement takes place.
11. Calvinists do not believe that no one can do any good thing at all.
Calvinists believe in what is called “total depravity” (as do Arminians). However, total depravity does not mean that people cannot ever do anything good. Calvinists believe that unregenerate people can do many good things and sometimes even act better than Christians. But when it comes to people’s disposition toward God and their acknowledgment of him for their abilities, gifts, and future, they deny him and therefore taint all that they are and do. An unbeliever, for example, can love and care for his children just as a believer can. In and of itself this is a very good thing. However, in relation to God this finds no eternal or transcendent favor since they are at war with him, the Giver of all things. Therefore, it might be said, while all people can do good, only the regenerate can do transcendent good.
12. Calvinists do not necessarily believe that God predestines (wills) everything, including the color of socks I chose this morning.
There is a spectrum of belief about God’s sovereignty in Calvinism. The one thing that unites all Calvinists is their belief in God’s sovereign choice to elect some people to salvation and not others. However, Calvinists differ concerning God’s involvement in other areas (for more on this, see here). Some Calvinists believe in what might be called “meticulous sovereignty,” where God has not only predestined people to salvation, but he has also predestined everything that occurs. As the old saying goes, “There is not a maverick molecule in the universe.” However, most Calvinists believe in what might be called “providential sovereignty.” Here, Calvinists would distinguish between God’s permissive will and his sovereign will. In his permissive will, many things happen that he permits, but is not necessarily bringing about as the first cause. In his sovereign will, many things happen because of his direct intervention (for more on this, see here).
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]