(This is a follow-up to my Ultimate Guide to Arminianism (by a Calvinist))
Calvinism is a theological system derived from the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564). As a branch of Protestant Christianity, it places an emphasis on the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of mankind, and the particular redemption of the elect. At the heart of Calvinism is the belief in predestination and the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation.
1. Total Depravity: Human nature is utterly fallen and unable to choose God without divine intervention (largely shared with Arminians).
2. Unconditional Election: God has chosen, from eternity, those whom He will save, not based on any foreseen merit in them, but solely according to His sovereign and secret will.
3. Limited Atonement: Jesus’s death atones specifically for the sins of the elect.
4. Irresistible Grace: The elect will not, ultimately, resist God’s saving grace.
5. Perseverance of the Saints: The faith of the elect will endure until the end by the power of God.
Important Calvinist Theologians Through Time
1. John Calvin (1509–1564)
2. Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)
3. Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892)
4. B.B. Warfield (1851–1921)
5. J.I. Packer (1926–2020)
6. R.C. Sproul (1939–2017)
7. John Piper (b. 1946)
8. Wayne Grudem (b. 1948)
9. John MacArthur (b. 1939)
10. Lorraine Boettner (1901-1990)
Calvinist Works You Should Know
1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
2. “The Westminster Confession of Faith” (1646)
3. Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will
4. R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God
5. J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
6. Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty of God
7. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
8. John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ
9. Lorraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination
10. “The Canons of Dort” (1618-1619)
11. Francis Turretinm, Institutes of Elenctic Theology
Misconceptions About Calvinism
1. Calvinists believe that God doesn’t love everyone.
In Calvinism, God is not an evil tyrant who rejoices at the sight of people burning in hell. Yes, there are those who believe such a view, but this is not an essential tenet of Calvinism. In fact, many Calvinists, including myself, believe that God loves everyone and does not will for them to perish. I don’t limit the concept of “world” in John 3:16 and other passages as some Calvinists do. Further, deepening the mystery is that God not only loves those He does not choose, but He loves them infinitely more than you or I ever could. Why doesn’t He choose everyone? Calvinists do not know and hold these realities as a perpetually shrouded part of His mysterious will.
2. God forces people to love him against their will
Many people think that Calvinists believe that God drags people, kicking and screaming, against their will into heaven. This common misconception is due to the unfortunate nomenclature of the TULIP acronym. “Irresistible grace” would be better named “persuasive grace.” God opens the heart of the elect, and they freely believe due to a realized vision of God’s beauty. To illustrate this point, (ironically) using words from Arminian Charles Wesley, who captures the spirit in his wonderful song, ‘And Can It Be’:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Once our chains fall off and the dungeon door is opened due to God’s ‘quickening’ (new birth), we are compelled to follow Him and would never choose otherwise. It might be theoretically possible for us to still hate Him, but it is actually impossible due to His beauty.
3. Calvinists believe that humans don’t have free will.
This is simply not true. Calvinists believe in free will. We just (typically) don’t believe in libertarian free will (or the power of contrary choice; Plantinga is a rare exception as he believes and defends libertarianism). Another way to put it is that we are free to make our own choices, and our choices will always be ours, but we don’t have the liberty to make choices that go against our nature. For example, I have the freedom to flap my arms and fly, but I don’t have that natural ability. Therefore, I lack the liberty. Our moral ability has been broken due to being in Adam. Consequently, we cannot choose God outside of the new birth. But when we do choose Him, it is we who make that choice; no one else makes it for us. Therefore, we are always free to choose according to the greatest desire of the moment, and we won’t choose otherwise.
4. All Calvinists hold to a meticulous view of God’s sovereignty.
God does not control everything in the same way. All Christians hold to some view of God’s sovereignty. You can believe that sovereignty means that God has provisional oversite or you can believe he is meticulously sovereign, being the first cause behind every action. To provide an illustration, God is not a cheerleader on the sidelines; however, this does not mean that He is every player in the game Most Calvinists believe that God is like the coach (or quarterback), calling the plays and controlling the direction of events.
5. Calvinists don’t believe in human responsibility.
Calvinists do believe in human responsibility alongside God’s sovereignty. Calvinists are not monolithic in this area either. Most evangelical Calvinists, such as myself, believe that God is working all things according to his predetermined will and that humans are fully responsible for our actions. The judgment is not a farce. The books will one day be opened and people will receive their just punishment and reward. For those in Christ, our penal retribution for his is covered. For those who do not trust Christ, the judgment will be fair. Calvinists, such as myself, do not seek to reconcile this. We believe that both sovereign election and human responsibility are taught in Scripture. We leave the mystery in tension, trusting God to do what is right. This is called “Compatibilism.” We believe that election and responsibility are mysteriously compatible.
6. Calvinists’ doctrine of Total Depravity means that people act as evil as they can.
Some believe that Calvinists posit that those outside of God cannot do anything but act out their depravity to the highest degree possible. When we talk about Romans 3:10-12, we believe that people are in moral rebellion against God, whether consciously or unconsciously, until God opens their hearts. It is in this sense that no one does good. However, we do believe that people are still in the image of God and may very well act out that image subconsciously in these actions. Unbelievers can commit hideous evil or perform noble acts of valor and kindness, as well as provide for their families and come to the aid of a neighbor. The lynchpin in their depravity is their fallen moral nature with respect to God. While in this natural state of enmity, “no one does good; no, not one.”
7. Calvinists are arrogant and mean.
Yeah, unfortunately, this is often true. But there are many who are not like this. Keep looking!
7. Calvinism is fatalistic.
Fatalism is the belief that events progress toward an inevitable fate or end. Many people believe that since God predestines everything that comes to pass, Calvinists must be fatalistic. However, fatalism is drastically different as it has no agent, reason, or purpose as to why things become what they become. “It is what it is” may be the mantra of fatalism. But for Calvinists, the is works out according to God’s good pleasure (Rom. 8:28). So it is what God makes it through us. An impersonal force is not behind all events, but a loving God.
8. Calvinists have a different God than Arminians.
Let me briefly express that I become deeply discouraged when people engage in this discussion by prefacing their opponent’s view as necessitating a different God. Statements like “The God of Calvinists is a tyrant” or “The God of Arminians is impotent” are unnecessarily rhetorical. As Christians, we all hold Christ up as our only hope. Therefore, we are brothers and sisters in Christ and share the same God.
9. Calvinists believe that God created people to go to hell.
A minority of Calvinists actually hold this belief, known as supralapsarianism. Most of us find it repulsive. And the God of supralapsarians…. Ahem, according to our supralapsarian idiot brothers….Ahem, these brothers and sisters believe that God chose who would be saved and who would not before he even created them. In their view, God created the elect for heaven and the non-elect (reprobate) for hell. However, most Calvinists believe that the decree to create people and allow the fall logically precedes the decree to save some. These Calvinists simply believe that God elected some and passed over others. It’s not like flipping a coin; God has a reason for choosing some and passing over others, though we don’t know why, other than it has nothing to do with any righteousness in us. This is why it’s called His sovereign and mysterious election.
10. Calvinists believe that God accomplishes whatever he wants.
According to Calvinists, God does not obtain or accomplish everything He wants; rather, He accomplishes everything He wills. There are some things that God wills but does not want, and there are things He wants but does not will. For example, He wanted humanity to remain righteous of their own free will, but He did not will or predestine this outcome for His own purpose. God wanted Judas to freely accept Christ and not betray Him, but He actively willed Christ’s betrayal (Acts 4:28). I could provide numerous illustrations for this concept of the two different wills in God, sometimes referred to as God’s will of decree versus God’s will of desire.
The Base Weakness of Calvinist Theology
“First and foremost, Calvinists are dedicated followers of Christ who earnestly seek to understand and live by the truths of Scripture. They share the same foundational beliefs as Arminians and will jointly rejoice in the presence of Christ for eternity. Additionally, I personally believe that we are going to be debating theological issues like these for all eternity (another blog).
Having said all this, I do recognize the problems in the Calvinistic system. I personally hold it as the best placeholder for the truth. In other words, I certainly don’t think we Calvinists have everything figured out, and I will not be surprised to find out that we were wrong about some things (as we all will). I have also recognized the ungodly attitude or arrogance that I have seen displayed within my own camp. However, for me personally, I find the notion that God loves everyone but does not choose everyone difficult to swallow. This will be the first question I ask Him when I get to heaven: “Why didn’t you choose everyone since you love everyone?” He may or may not explain it to me. But I would rather hold certain theological issues in tension than attempt to mold Scripture to satisfy my systematic tensions.”
The Base Strength of Calvinist Theology
All I can do is speak for myself here. Not only do I find Compatibilistic Calvinism to provide the best exegesis of Scripture and offer systematic coherence, but it is also deeply personal for me. I believe that the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty helps me make sense of the world in a way that putting God more toward the sidelines as a cheerleader does not. I want all things to work together for good and to find meaning in the greatest evils I see. As a Calvinist, I can truly say that God doesn’t want tragedy to happen to me or my family, but He wills it for a good reason.