Calvin: he’s hot, hot, hot

453px-Calvin-coolidgeNo, not THAT Calvin — although maybe he has a birthday coming up, too.

The rock star of the moment is John Calvin, the stereotypically dour theological chaperone of Geneva (his 500th birthday is July 10). A balanced, nicely-done story by Religion News Service writer Daniel Burke maps the lawyer’s influence on American evangelicals, particularly Southern Baptists. But why is Calvin becoming so, er, trendy? Well, it isn’t because of his clothes, his beard, or even the way he wanted to govern Geneva. It is, as Burke astutely notes in his lede, Calvin’s doctrine that is undergoing, excuse the expression, a renaissance among conservative Christians:

Like most 24-year-old men, Stephen Jones is keenly interested in sin. But while many of his peers enjoy their youthful indiscretions, Jones takes a more, shall we say, Puritanical stand.

Last weekend (June 12-15), Jones and 4,000 other young Christians packed into a convention center in Palm Springs, Calif., to hear preachers tell them that they are totally depraved, incapable of doing the right thing without a mighty hand from God, and — most importantly — have absolutely no control over their eternal fate…

“His theology is the hottest, most explosive thing being discussed right now,” said Justin Taylor, 32, a self-described Calvinist, and an editorial director at Crossway, a Christian publisher in the evangelical heartland of Wheaton, Ill. “What he taught is extraordinarily influential right now.”

Absolute depravity? Double predestination? Full-scale refutation of the doctrine of free will? Who knew these would make such a comeback? Not only do Neo-Calvinist churches like Mars Hill, Seattle and Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City have large populations of young worshippers, but they are pastored by clergy, like Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller, who have become authors and media figures in their own rights.

Burke notes that this surge in influence has been expressed in some innovative ways, like Facebook fan clubs and Twitter feeds. But, as he also does a good job of clearly articulating why and how this shower of Calvin-related worship, books, and church plants has brought controversy with it — even among conservative Christians.

…former Southern Baptist Convention President Jerry Vines said Calvinism inhibits evangelism and missionary work, which is the lifeblood of the SBC, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. If Jesus died only for the elect, then what’s the point of trying to reach others, said Vines, who co-organized a conference dedicated to debunking Calvinism last year.

“I do believe it is possible to be a five-point Calvinist and be evangelistic and missionary-minded,” Vines said. “But their evangelism and missionary work is in spite of their Calvinism, and not because of it. That’s going to make some of them mad, but I do believe it.”

Vine’s question is a very good one, and there are plenty of other ones that journalists could be asking the Neo-Calvinists. What the connection between the neo’s and the so-called “emerging churches?” What about Calvin’s strong anti-Catholic bias? Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted Orthodox Church in America Metropolitan Jonah today as saying that Calvinism among some Anglican evangelicals was a “condemned heresy” posing a problem that needed to be resolved before full communion between the new Anglican Church in North America and OCA was possible.

Yes, indeed, he’s very hot at the moment.

As the media begins to dig deeper (hopefully), the controversy over what Calvin really believed and how these new Calvinists are expressing it needs to get more attention. Burke’s article is a great beginning. If you want a more secular perspective, with some interesting history thrown in, read the Associated Press story by Hanns Neurbourg here. In a story about one of the towering figures of the Reformation, there’s remarkably little analysis of Calvin’s theology. But there is a lot of data on his influence on the arts, democracy, and economics — much of it in revolt against the sage of Geneva, an apparently humble man who would probably not have guessed that 500 years after his birth, he would be making square so hip.

The picture of President Coolidge is from Wikimedia Commons

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  • FrGregACCA

    As the media begins to dig deeper (hopefully), the controversy over what Calvin really believed and how these new Calvinists are expressing it needs to get more attention

    In other words, “Was Calvin a Calvinist?” And does it matter?

  • Dave

    What about Calvin’s strong anti-Catholic bias?

    What about Calvin burning Michael Servetus at the stake?

  • Ray Nearhood

    Vines said. “But their evangelism and missionary work is in spite of their Calvinism, and not because of it. That’s going to make some of them mad, but I do believe it.”

    Vine’s has been called to task on this before. Calvinists have been some of the most prolific evangelists in Protestant church history. Jonathan Edwards, James Whitefield, C.H. Spurgeon, A.W. Pink, etc.. the list is much longer than that.

    The Calvinist evangelizes for the same reasons he prays: 1) Because Scripture demands it, 2) because it brings glory to God, 3) because he realizes his former state and knows the joy of the blessed hope in Christ, and desires all to know it.

    Does it mean all will know it? Nope. So why not just evangelize the “elect?” In the words of Spurgeon: “Had the Lord deemed it good to paint a yellow stripe down the back of the elect, I should spend my days lifting coat tails. Alas, he has not, so I must preach the Gospel to whosoever I meet that whosoever will listen may be whosoever believes.”

  • Ray Nearhood


    He didn’t. The council of Geneva did. Calvin wasn’t a part of the council of Geneva. Calvin asked that Servetus receive mercy and be beheaded instead, but the council ruled against his pleas.

    Funny thing, though. At the time, Servetus was on the lamb, having escaped execution twice before. He was condemned under penalty of death in more places than Geneva and by more than the Reformed cities.

    Like it or not, a lot of the cities were relatively sovereign and under a type of Christocracy. Heresy (which Servetus was guilty of spreading for preaching against the Trinity) was punishable by death.

  • Dave

    Oh, just beheaded; well, that’s OK. [/irony]

  • Martha

    Ray, believe me, I do appreciate the distinction between the secular arm and the Church.

    It’s the same thing as when Catholics explain that the Inquisition didn’t burn heretics; the State did :-)

  • Baus

    Please don’t continue to misuse the term neocalvinist (Neo-Calvinist). Neocalvinism is a well used synonym for Kuyperian, that is the worldview tradition of Abraham Kuyper.

    What you mean to refer to is a new interest in theological Calvinism. Some have more appropriately called this a Neo-Puritanism. In any case, for some help on what the term neocalvinism refers to, see here:

  • Aaron Armitage

    But contemporary evangelical Calvinists are more or less strongly influenced by Kuyper, usually by way of Francis Schaeffer.

  • Ray Nearhood


    First of all, I didn’t say beheading was any better in that it still killed him, but a more merciful form of execution. Comparable to the difference between death by beating and death by lethal injection.

    Anyhow, none of that matters. The law of the time was the law. As nasty as it might sound to our sensitive ears, capital punishment was carried out for crimes other than modern capital offenses. Seems as if you’re judging the actions of the judges then against the laws of modern western society. It’s a false comparison. The council, when convicting and executing Servetus, was acting perfectly within the law. They even checked it against other ruling ecumenical councils.


    I made no reference to the separation of the church and state. In fact, I said ” the cities were relatively sovereign and under a type of Christocracy.” A Christocracy necessarily combines church and state.

    But, so there is an historical perspective to the discussion, this is an abridged version of the death of Servetus:

    Servetus was arrested and convicted of heresy in Vienne by a Catholic Ecumenical council (the evidence against him was 17 letters he had written to Calvin which Calvin had shared with others). He escaped prison and was making a run for Italy. For some unknown reason he stopped in Geneva, where he had been warned he would not escape alive should he return (this warning was in a letter from Calvin to a friend that had been published).

    Servetus was captured (at Calvin’s church) and tried for heresy. Calvin – who had lost authority on the council years earlier, resigned months before Servetus’ capture, and was in poor health – did not attend his trial (but the letters Servetus and Calvin exchanged were the main evidence against him). He was found guilty of Antitrinitarianism and anti-paedobaptism (a lesser charge, for which the punishment was banishment).

    Geneva did not have the authority to execute Servetus as he was not a citizen. However, other councils agreed that he and his teachings should be suppressed. Eventually the Spanish government (from which Servetus was a citizen fugitive) gave the go ahead for execution. He was set to burn at the stake. Calvin agreed with the decision but requested leniency be shown by beheading instead of burning. He was denied by the Geneva ecumenical council of which he was not a part. Calvin was also berated for being too lenient by the council and his friend, Farel.

    Calvin did not attend the execution.

    All I’m saying is that the consistency of accusation that Calvin killed Servetus doesn’t make it so.

  • blestou

    For every on-fire young SBC pastor who loves being called a “Calvinist”, I’ll show you two who are comfortable with the election theology but not with the label.

  • Dave

    Ray, Martha has you cold. You come across as an Inquistion apologist.

  • E.E. Evans

    This ain’t the place to refight either the rights and wrongs of the Inquisition or who was complicit in the burning of Servetus. Many so called Christians were a bloodthirsty lot in those days –hopefully the spiritual heirs of Calvin have put aside the stake and the sword in favor of Facebook and Twitter.

  • Dave2

    Ray wrote:

    Seems as if you’re judging the actions of the judges then against the laws of modern western society. It’s a false comparison.

    This sounds like the worst kind of moral relativism. Surely evil is evil, regardless of the culture it occurs in, and regardless of the culture of those who recognize it as evil.

  • MattK

    I am pretty impressed by Burke’s explanation of Calvinism. You can’t just use the word without giving some explanation of what it is. Burke gave some. On the other hand, it would have been nice if Rodgers (who covers the Orthodox Church really well) had explained why the Orthodox think Calvinism is heresy.

  • carl

    For the record, I am a Calvinist. I personally hate the title, but there really isn’t a more descriptive word available that communicates so precisely the doctrine. If you have an alternative suggestion, I am willing to hear. There are two things that concern me in stories like this.

    1. Calvinism is usually presented as some sort of strange fire in Protestantism, as if there are ‘normal Christians’ and then those ‘Calvinists.’ Journalists too often take American Evangelicalism as normative without accounting for the individualist American influence on Christianity as practiced in America. But this is not historically accurate. Calvinists are classically juxtaposed with Arminians. They represent two different concepts of justification. But you will never here Arminianism mentioned in the press. How many reporters have even heard of the word? Consider the similar case of eschatology. Most reporters don’t understand that Pre-millenial Dispensationalism is not the majority understanding of end times. I suspect most reporters don’t have a clue what Pre-millenial Dispensationalism even means. But they all understand ‘Left Behind.’ That’s the problem. They consider that which they know to be normative. But their understanding is not very broad. Strangely enough, most Arminians (like say Norman Geisler) flee from the title. There is story to be found in that little fact as well.

    2. It is extremely difficult to get Arminians to let Calvinism define itself. Spend any amount of time listening to Arminians critique Calvinism and you will inevitably hear strawman after strawman. “Calvinism is fatalism.” “Calvinism makes man into a robot.” “Calvinism destroys Evangelism.” On and on they go. Each of these claims has an associated response, but many are they who simply wish to kill the infant in the crib. They do not care what the responses are. They simply want to isolate the virus from the people, and will do whatever is necessary to achieve that purpose. I imagine that this difficulty will be magnified several times when dealing with journalists who think Calvin was a comic strip in the 1980′s. It is easy to develop a false caricature of Calvinism. The subject is not simple, and can easily be distorted by those with an agenda of poisoning the well. I do not have confidence that journalists will be able to parse these differences.


  • Ray Nearhood


    Geez, man, an Inquisition apologist? She (inadvertantly, I believe) accused me of separating church from state in 16th century Geneva. I did not, and I showed that.

    Moral Relativism? How about no. How about, I agree that capital punishment is effective and a good tool to be employed by the government, whatever the ruling body might be. I also think that use of this most extreme form of punishment requires a form of court be used to dispense of the punishment. I also think that “bad” or “extreme” ideas of punishment are a product of one’s society.

    Seems to me like I read somewhere that the most just government in the world in it’s time removed hands for stealing, paid injury for injury, death for death, homosexuality, bestiality, witchcraft, heresy, cursing of parents, adultery, etc… and burned to death a man, woman, and mother for intermarrying. Now where would you guess I read that?

    With that, out of deference to the author, I leave this line of discussion.

  • Ray Nearhood


    If you have an alternative suggestion, I am willing to hear

    Try “Reformed.”

  • Ray Nearhood

    E.E. Evans,

    Sorry about that. As to the media coverage:

    Absolute depravity? Double predestination? Full-scale refutation of the doctrine of free will? Who knew these would make such a comeback?

    Forgive me for saying, but the best media coverage will likely be about as good as the coverage here.

    I read in this article:

    Ha, ha, ha! Not Coolidge. –> John Calvin’s theology is “trendy.” –> Calvin’s theology is “hot,” so says a 24 year old “puritan” –> Calvinism is “absolute depravity” (undefined – and it’s Total Depravity), “double predestination” (undefined, and it’s Unconditional Election – double predestination is an explanation of “how” not what and it has different meaning depending on who you talk to. Is it positive/positive (how Arminians try to dress down Election) or positive/negative (what Calvinists actually believe), and a full scale refutation the doctrine of free will (free will is undefined)—>it’s making a comeback (comeback? No, it’s just getting popular in the U.S. again. It never left)—>Calvinism causes controversy—>here’s the controversy—>Here’s the refutation (WAIT a minute, never mind, there is no refutation)—>Yup, it’s “hot” because of controversy—>Squares (Calvinists, I assume) are “hip.”

    Strawman after strawman and misrepresentation after misrepresentation. That’s what I expect. And, I expect that the coverage will happen. As the “seeker sensitive” and “purpose driven” movements wind down, I expect, like today, we’ll see an exodus to confessional churches and the media will wonder “what’s going on?”

  • Ray Nearhood


    Moral Relativism? How about, no. How about, I agree with capital punishment as a form of justice meted out by the government irrespective of under whom the authority lies. I think it’s best that the justice is dispensed by a fair court.

    Surely evil is evil, regardless of the culture it occurs in

    Heh, so you believe that death for heresy is evil? Seems to me that I remember reading somewhere that the most just government of it’s time removed hands for stealing, met injury for injury, put to death for adultery, bestiality, homosexuality, heresy, cursing of ones parents, etc… and burned to death men and women to purge immorality from the society. I wonder where I could have read that?

    Seems as if you misunderstood me in calling me a moral relativist. I said you were judging their laws by today’s standards… not me.

    With that, I take leave of the subject out of deference to the author’s request.

  • Ray Nearhood

    Whoops, I thought I had accidentally deleted my first comment. Didn’t mean to repeat myself.

  • E.E. Evans

    Ray, I’ll wear (some of, not all of) your chastisement on my post — I am sometimes a little glib. THAT is very relevant to the theme of media coverage. However, we’re also talking, in some cases, and very helpfully, I think, about the way a movement uses language from the inside, and how they are perceived by “outsiders.”

    Carl, great background on the Arminians.

    Matt, I agree with your comments on the Rodgers article, although she was trying to do a lot in one article and writing a news piece.

    Underneath all of this is: what is fair to expect journalists will know and write, and what is not? It’s sometimes hard to pin down.

  • Magister Christianus

    It is posts like this that make me enjoy reading Get Religion. Wonderful blog! I so appreciate the thoughts at Get Religion that I have passed along the Honest Scrap award to this blog. For more details, see

  • Elizabeth

    Let me say that I appreciate the honor for GetReligion from someone so erudite. I learn a lot from our commenters. I can’t speak for either Servetus or Calvin! ;-)

  • Franklin Jennings

    I don’t mind being an apologist for the Inquisition. The standards of evidence and the procedures of hearing were much more fair, and closer to modern standards, than any secular court in Europe at the time.

    The Roman Inquisition was founded by the Church to investigate charges of heresy, charges that had previously been investigated by secular authorities. Secular authorities who made laws against heresy, and then used charges of heresy against enemies. Since the Church couldn’t rightly interfere in the workings of secular governments and end secular punishments for heresy, She did the best thing within her power: she exercised her prerogative to determine what and who were heretical.

    So yes, the Inquisition did not execute people for heresy, their secular governments did. If you merely object to burning alive, why would lethal injection have been preferable?

  • carl

    [17] Ray Nearhood wrote:

    Try “Reformed.”

    That is the obvious first choice, but it’s ambiguous. “Reformed” implies more than just the Five Points to many people. Ask any Reformed Baptist how many times he has been told he is not Reformed because he is a Credo-baptist. Some people say ‘Reformed’ means Calvinist Soteriology. Others say it means Calvinist Soteriology plus Paedobaptism and Covenant Theology. Some throw in the Regulative Principle of Worship. Some add eschatological restrictions. I prefer Reformed because Calvinist sounds too much like “I am of Paul.” But the word just doesn’t have the required accuracy.


  • Stephen A.

    Putting aside the Inquisition for a moment, I can’t wait for a more in-depth analysis of Calvinism’s wilted TULIP and its subtle but destructive effect on Christianity, including the “Total Depravity” doctrine which long ago turned most Christians into pew warmers and sapped them of their free will and . And no, I’m not being ironic.

    To hear Christian preachers say (constantly) that their flocks cannot “do” anything good, or rip Paul’s “filthy rags” quote out of context is to hear Christianity become lazy from this repetitive message. The flock fails to “get” any of the subtle theological niceties of the doctrine, and instead starts to believe they are NOT responsible for doing good (which is, in fact, a Biblical imperative) and can blame God for not giving them the power to do so.

    Yeah, this man-made doctrine and its effects needs a LOT more exposure and this article was a GREAT start.

  • Dave2


    Yes, executing people for holding heretical beliefs is a pretty clear example of evil, regardless of what any holy text says about the matter. I thought this was uncontroversial, in the West anyway.

  • Dave2



    Seems as if you misunderstood me in calling me a moral relativist. I said you were judging their laws by today’s standards… not me.

    You misunderstand moral relativism. A relativist is not someone who judges ancient practices by modern standards. Quite the contrary. A relativist is someone who refuses to condemn evil when that evil is accepted by a culture, because (according to relativists) there are no universal or absolute moral standards and therefore no moral standards other than parochial cultural standards.

    For example, a moral relativist would be unwilling to condemn Aztec child sacrifice, simply on account of the fact that it was accepted by the cultural standards of the Aztecs. And if someone pointed out to the relativist that child sacrifice is evil, regardless of what the Aztecs thought, the relativist would accuse that person of judging ancient practices by modern standards.

    Now, if I’m not mistaken, you are unwilling to condemn Calvin’s evil, simply on account of the fact that his evil was accepted by the standards of his culture. That is exactly the same as the case of the Aztecs. So, if that’s what you’re saying, then your statements are a clear embodiment of moral relativism.

  • Ray Nearhood

    You are mistaken. I don’t think it was evil because it wasn’t. I defer to my comment 19.

  • Ray Nearhood

    [25] carl wrote

    Ask any Reformed Baptist how many times he has been told he is not Reformed because he is a Credo-baptist

    As a Reformed Baptist, I empathize.

  • Dave

    Ray, you got your discussants mixed up. I never accused you of moral relativism. That was someone else.

  • David Palmer

    Elisabeth asks,

    What about Calvin’s strong anti-Catholic bias?

    Well, he did write at the time of the Reformation.

    The polemic was strong on both sides.

    This year in commemoration of Calvin’s birthday, the folk at the Church I attend, St Yarra PC are reading The Institutes. Today we are up to Book 3, Chap XX on prayer. It has been a real eye opener. Calvin is warm, pastorally sensitive and very keen that we get the point of what he is saying. Most of the clashes with Catholicism relate, as you would expect, to topics like faith and works. The language (sentance construction) takes some getting used to, but I’m so glad his 500th anniversary has forced me into reading the Institutes.

  • Jared

    Stephen A.: preach it brother. We need to be reminded that it’s up to us to add to what Christ has done in order to guarantee our salvation. Nothing could more dangerous than telling a man that being saved by the grace of God, his life ought to be one of repentance and gratitude. Nay, it is fear of going to hell if his good works prove insufficient, and nothing else, that will compel men to be good Christians.

  • Jared

    May be I should try again with less sarcasm (and hopefully better grammar). If “Calvinism” was actually taught the way you suggest it is taught it would be dangerous. Possibly heretical. In practice, I don’t ever think I’ve heard a Calvinist go on for too long about grace without making a deliberate point of bringing up the whole “shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?” line of reasoning from Paul, explicitly rejecting the exact mentality that you insist Calvinism must of necessity lead to in terms completely unambiguous to even the dullest of parishioners. Well, maybe things haven’t always been presented that clearly, but that tends to be the rule, rather than the exception.

  • Stephen A.

    Jared, first, I LOVED response #33. Sarcastic, biting, to the point. Awesome.

    Anyway, you apparently run with some very smart Calvinists – ones that spend more time thinking in great detail about such things than the vast majority in the pews ever do, and can make those subtle theological distinctions. Sadly, out in the churches, and the pulpits, and in books, tracts and blogs, they did not get the memo (especially in the South and in conservative denominations, I must add.)

    I’m an ex-Presbyterian, so I got it straight from the source and in thick doses. I still hear the preachers on TV and online, and I have heard countless of their followers in the pews and in the workplace, and they spend 90% of the time talking about how all the “work” is done FOR them, how even the word “work” is utterly evil, how we are completely unable to do work unless God gives them the ability, how “works salvation” is a sin, and how all they need to do is have a warm, fuzzy emotional conversion experience (maybe 2 or 3 if it doesn’t stick) and then warm the pews until Jesus returns – but God forbid we were given the ability to do GOOD WORKS (or is that “Augustine and Calvin forbid”? Since it’s largely their invention.) Let’s ignore all those messy Bible verses DEMANDING performance of good works in the OT and NT – and the context is not “in gratitude,” either.

    Again, rarely do I see a dissenting word on this doctrine in the media – or even one defending it, for that matter. Were I a reporter covering religion, I would be the first to ask “Why are all those people trashing good works all the time?”

  • Jared

    And you ran with some strange Presbyterians if they were emphasizing warm, fuzzy, and emotional conversion experiences. That’s just about the least Calvinist-sounding thing I could think of. And just who are these Calvinists with TV ministries? Speaking of not getting the memo…

    And yes, we are commanded to do good works. But we are not to consider those good works in any way the basis for our right standing before God. This is not a subtle theological distinction. I think it’s made pretty clearly by Tim Keller, and Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler, John Piper, Matt Chandler and lots of others.

  • Stephen A.

    Jared, you’re right, those warm fuzzy experiences were observed in others, not experienced, when I lived in the South and they were in OTHER denominations. But many Presbyterians I knew needed no prodding to avoid “works.”

    Sad to say, I don’t know any of the folks you listed. I’m Googling them now.

    Calvinism (and TULIP) is perhaps not even known by name by the preachers, on TV and off, who spout it without thinking through its implications. They just know that Works are bad, and should NOT be done because they are “filthy rags” and an affront to God. Such grossly out-of-context preaching seems to me impious, to say the least.

    The idea that one should never work to please God, and that God is not pleased by good works (or is only pleased when He decides to give us the ability to do good works …for Him) is an odd doctrine indeed. As is the 17th Century “Man is an utterly wicked creature!” image it promotes.

    Again, Calvin’s doctrines would be a great topic for a religion reporter, and I’d love to see follow-ups and reactions when church-goers learn exactly what theories underpin their preacher’s abhorrence to good works.

  • MattK

    Jared asked (#36), “And just who are these Calvinists with TV ministries?”

    I haven’t watched T.V. in about 9 years but I remember seeing R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, D. James Kennedy (Pres. Church in America), the Crystal Cathedral guy (Dutch Reforemed?), Harold Camping and Charles Stanly (baptist) on T.V. I’m pretty sure they are all Calvinists.

  • Russ R

    One problem not noted is that “Neo-Calvinism” is a term already in existence with a specific meaning, referring to the Dutch Reformed intellectual tradition following Abraham Kuyper (see What Burke is describing is a notable movement, but it’s not Neo-Calvinism.

  • Ray Nearhood

    Matt K. and Stephen A.,

    I want to take a quick look at Matt’s list (#38):

    I haven’t watched T.V. in about 9 years but I remember seeing R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, D. James Kennedy (Pres. Church in America), the Crystal Cathedral guy (Dutch Reformed?), Harold Camping and Charles Stanly (baptist) on T.V. I’m pretty sure they are all Calvinists.

    R.C. Sproul is a Calvinist, but I assure you he has never taught, “how even the word “work” is utterly evil, how we are completely unable to do work unless God gives them the ability”. He does teach that our works are unable to please God before salvation, but not unable to do good temporally.

    John MacArthur is sort of a Calvinist. He adheres to and teaches the Doctrines of Grace and 5 Solas, but not much else. He is, without a doubt, evangelistic in his ministry and provides alot of good things through his Grace to You ministries. He doesn’t teach just sit there and wait.

    D. James Kennedy was a Calvinist. While alive he was active in the “Moral Majority” and founded the “Evangelism Explosion.” I’m not familiar with any of his writings or sermons, but his actions seem to indicate he believed in an active faith.

    Robert Shuller (aka. the Crystal Cathedral guy) is affiliated with the liberal Reformed Church in America (not to be confused with the Reformed Church in North America) which was a liberal break off of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of North America which was, itself a liberal break from the Dutch Reformed Church. Shuller was particularly liberal in that denomination. That’s tri-liberal, in case you were counting. But, discounting his liberal “Calvinism” (almost an oxymoron) he still taught an active faith, while teaching against faith/works justification. His big catch phrase on his “Hour of Power” throughout the 80s: “Don’t…just…sit…there. Do something!”

    Harold Camping had a Calvinist background (Dutch Reformed) but is not a Calvinist. You could move him over to the Tim LeHaye/Hal Lindsay -predictors-of-the-second-coming-wacko-prophets aisle. What he may teach with reference to predestinatarianism is probably a reflection of his twisted theology that allows him to “prophesy” the Second Coming.

    Charles Stanley is not a Calvinist or Reformed Baptist. He’s Southern Baptist.

  • Stephen A.

    Ray, I can flat out tell you that R.C. Sproul is a TULIP-believing Calvinist who does indeed believe one cannot do good unless God first gives one the power to do good. I sat through a ghastly multi-part videotape series of his while still involved in Presbyterianism and I must say that his teachings on this and Double Predestination were the first sparks that send me fleeing the Church for good.

    The others you list may not self-ID as “Calvinists” but do they accept and parrot the theory/doctrine of moral inability? I would almost guarantee you that they do, and that some of these condemn “works salvation” on a regular basis.

    Charles Stanley’s Website, for instance, notes: “We believe that salvation is the gift of God’s grace. It cannot be gained or made more secure by meritorious works, but is freely bestowed upon all who put their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ at Calvary.” So to him, our works are literally nothing to God, until after God gives us the ability to do them, which is mere puppetry.

  • Ray Nearhood


    I see the misunderstanding then.

    Stanley isn’t a Calvinist. He is an Evangelical Protestant. All Protestants believe in some form of Sola Fide – that is, that justification is granted by faith alone through the salvific work of Christ Alone – so the language tends to be similar. But that doesn’t define Calvinism, and, you’ll find, that it isn’t adhered to strictly across Protestantism. For example (from my old church’s website, Christian Church/Church of Christ [Arminian]):

    Salvation (the forgiveness of sins) is offered to all people and comes only by grace through the blood of Jesus Christ (His death on the cross) and His resurrection from the dead.
    Matthew 26:28, Romans 5:8-11, Ephesians 2:8-9 & 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

    And the Southern Baptist Statement of Faith (Baptist Faith & Message) is ambiguous to please both the somewhat Calvinists and Arminians in their denomination.

    The Five Solas are not exclusive to the Reformed Camp (though we would disagree with the use by many of the less historically grounded Protestant/Evangelical churches).

    I said Sproul was a Calvinist. Of course he holds to the Doctrines of Grace (TULIP). But, you misrepresent his teaching. I assume you do so unintentionally, but you still do. I know Sproul’s works very well, and I know that he doesn’t teach “one cannot do good unless God first gives them the power.” What you are saying he teaches is utter depravity. Utter depravity means that we can do nothing good, nothing nice, etc… Here’s what Sproul says about that in Chosen By God:

    Total depravity is not utter depravity. Utter depravity would mean that we are all as sinful as we possibly could be

    What Total Depravity does teach is that we are, in our sinful state, at emnity with God and cannot please Him. Even if we do good things, unless we are doing for Him, it doesn’t please Him. And we never do it for Him unless we are not regenerate. That even extends to searching for God and believing in Him. We will not do it unless we are regenerate. Again, Sproul:

    Calvinism assumes that without the intervention of God no one will ever want Christ. Left to themselves, no one will ever choose Christ

    if the final decision for the salvation of fallen sinners were left in the hands of fallen sinners, we would despair all hope that anyone would be saved

    Now, there is Scripture to back that up. One example is Romans 8:6-8:

    For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

    What Sproul teaches is consistent with this. Before being saved we can “do good” but that “good” is not good in God’s eyes because it is not done for His Glory.

    As for double predestination, I’m not sure what you heard, but it isn’t as sinister as it’s often made out to be.

    The others you list may not self-ID as “Calvinists”

    The others, except for Stanley and Camping (who was brought up a Calvinist but went the way of crazy), do self-ID as Calvinist.

    the theory/doctrine of moral inability?….our works are literally nothing to God, until after God gives us the ability to do them, which is mere puppetry.

    I think what you are describing here is a form of Hyper-Calvinism, or Predestinitarianism. It is the logical extreme of Calvinism (in the same way that Pelagianism is the logical extreme of “Free-will” theology) and considered a heresy by most reformed circles.

    No, our works are not “nothing to God,” but they do not please Him. But, God uses all things for the good of those that believe in Him according to His will for His glory.

    It’s not that we are morally unable. It’s we are slaves to sin, even if we adhere to morality. Our wills are bound by sin, and set free to serve God, bound by righteousness.

    It’s not “until God gives us the ability to do them,” it’s they aren’t pleasing to Him until we do them for His Glory Alone, which, as Paul states in Romans 8:8 we cannot do unless we have (v9ff) the Spirit of Christ first, justified by faith, set free of the flesh. That is wholly the work of God.

  • Stephen A.

    Ray, you have very neatly and perfectly illustrated 500 years of human-made philosophy in a way I could never do.

    “We are all as sinful as we possibly could be” is a straw man no one ever argues (and I bet RC knew that, too.) The fact that he believes we cannot

    our works are not “nothing to God,” but they do not please Him.

    I see no real difference.

    What Total Depravity does teach is that we are, in our sinful state, at emnity with God and cannot please Him. Even if we do good things, unless we are doing for Him, it doesn’t please Him.

    This, to me, is supremely wicked and completely un-Biblical.

    It is tied up with a fundamental false teaching of the doctrine of original sin, for which I fault the Manichean Augustine, not Calvin, although John certainly built his theory that we can never do any good around it.

    Even Pelagius humbly admitted God’s grace, but defined it as the example of Christ and His teachings. He scripturally taught that we had no excuse for not obeying God’s will, once we had that knowledge, and that (again, Biblically) that we’d be rewarded according to God’s promise.

    A simple, straightforward salvation, but it’s a path Christianity refused to take, sadly. Now it’s based either on an “easy salvation” one can get with a small prayer, or a morally degrading salvation we aren’t entitled to unless our Dictator decrees we are getting it.

    Either way, we are not required to act, or are not empowered to do so. A strange faith indeed.

  • Ray Nearhood

    One more thing,

    To “works salvation” or justification by faith/works. Yes, the Reformed do condemn this doctrine as false. We do believe in justification by faith alone. But, despite how we are often characterized, we also believe in the mortification of sin and progressive sanctification. We don’t teach to sit on your hands until God moves your will.

  • Ray Nearhood

    This, to me, is supremely wicked and completely un-Biblical.

    Please, then, walk me through the passage I quoted. Can someone, unsaved, please God or subject himself to the law of God? Was Paul mistaken?

    Either way, we are not required to act, or are not empowered to do so. A strange faith indeed.

    Again, wrong. We are required to repent. We are required to be baptized. We are required to confess faith in the finished work of Christ.

    You will not find a Reformed theologian that teaches that we aren’t required to act. What you will find taught is that, when quickened, we will act affirmatively.

  • Ray Nearhood

    It is tied up with a fundamental false teaching of the doctrine of original sin

    What is Original Sin but our entire nature, inherited from Adam, which sends us to death and bends us towards evil? Are we not, from our youth, bent towards evil? Are we not all deserving of death? Is it not our very nature?

    Romans 5:12,18-19
    Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned… So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

    Genesis 6:5-7 (the reason for the Flood)
    Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

    Genesis 8:21 (post flood, sinfulness survived)
    The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.”

    Jeremiah 17:9
    The heart is more deceitful than all else
    And is desperately sick;
    Who can understand it?

    Romans 3:23
    all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

  • E.E. Evans

    You guys are getting way off topic here, and let me suggest you take this conversation to the cafe. It is interesting and enlightening, but not topical! ;-)

  • Ray Nearhood

    What Total Depravity does teach is that we are, in our sinful state, at emnity with God and cannot please Him. Even if we do good things, unless we are doing for Him, it doesn’t please Him.

    This, to me, is supremely wicked and completely un-Biblical.

    Then I submit:

    Psalm 78:54-59
    So He brought them to His holy land,
    To this hill country which His right hand had gained.
    He also drove out the nations before them
    And apportioned them for an inheritance by measurement,
    And made the tribes of Israel dwell in their tents.
    Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God
    And did not keep His testimonies,
    But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
    They turned aside like a treacherous bow
    For they provoked Him with their high places
    And aroused His jealousy with their graven images.
    When God heard, He was filled with wrath
    And greatly abhorred Israel

    Psalm 5:4-6
    For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness;
    No evil dwells with You.
    The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes;
    You hate all who do iniquity.
    You destroy those who speak falsehood;
    The LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.

    Romans 8:5-8
    For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

    Hebrews 11:6
    And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

  • Ray Nearhood

    E.E. Evans,

    Is the cafe on this site? I’m new here.

    Sorry, again. As you can see, I am easily drawn into discussion. :)

  • E.E. Evans

    Ray, I’m trying to find out how to suggest to get there. I just emailed my colleagues. It’s really OK. As you can see, I’m not very strict about keeping folks on the subject ;-)

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    Dear Ray,

    Elizabeth is referring to the GetReligion Coffeehouse, our non-moderated discussion on Google Groups:

  • Stephen A.

    I’ve seen the cafe. It’s in a bad neighborhood and no one goes there.

  • E.E. Evans

    Thank you, Doug. I can’t even get the name right.

    Stephen A, that is very funny. No wonder I’ve never been there.

    We should set up a Second Life coffeehouse.

  • Ray Nearhood

    Thanks, Douglas.


    If you want, we can continue at the coffee house, at my blog (there’s a Total Depravity post there), or we can take leave of the subject. I’m open.


  • Stephen A.

    I’ll be brief because I can’t pretend this is on topic anymore, but allow this one last public riposte.

    The old proof-texts via Paul are unconvincing. I suspect Paul is always being quoted out of context, but if I’m wrong, then Paul is wrong. I have no problem saying Paul was wrong about God and/or human nature. But that’s another topic.

    The Original Sin doctrine is an invention of the Manichean Augustine, and was unknown by the early church, and utterly foreign to Judaism at that time, or since. Again, another topic.

    The OT books and Jesus himself constantly speak to the ability and responsibility of people to do good works, to be good, and to even seek perfection. To deny this, as many Christians do (and use the “Fall” as an excuse for the moral inability to obey) is a testament to man’s inventiveness.

    Finally (and I mean it) your acknowledgement of the ability to repent, be baptized and confess means you (perhaps unintentionally) recognize all are ACTIONS that we are morally able to perform. That, of course, is incompatible with the “fallen nature” and “totally depraved” theories of humanity from Augustine and Calvin, et al. Understand that MANY evangelicals and Reformed types do NOT acknowledge we have the ability to do so. FYI, that “quickening” you mention is God playing puppeteer, and that’s unalloyed Calvinism.

    Done. ;-) Okay, I’m off to that dive cafe now.

  • Stephen A.

    Elizabeth, my computer operates on Windows 91, or so it seems, and I can barely move my avatar in Second Life. I tried, once. But it sounds like a GREAT idea.

    Just keep the Calvinists from burning my avatar at the stake.

  • blestou

    Stephen A.

    Do you have formal theological training? Where?

  • Stephen A.

    bestou, I got my training at Grandpa Pelagius’s Online School O’ Theology and Barber College.

    No, actually, I learned it as a pew-warmer in churches in the 1990s and earlier.

    And if this was a video, you’d see me pretending to be OUTRAGED, or amused, that someone seemingly questioned my lack of credentials to engage in theological fisticuffs (off-topic ones, at this point. Go to cafe to chat more.)

  • blestou

    Sorry to have come across that way (and for the accidental double-post). I had not heard the views you expressed formulated in quite that way before and was simply wondering if it came from a specific school.

    Thank you for the response.

  • Stephen A.

    blestou, And forgive me for being snarky in my response. It’s incredibly hard to glean the emotional intent of comments on the Internet, so I didn’t know yours.

    I’m not from any particular school (“Non-Calvinist” isn’t a designation is it?) but those who have read what I’ve written would likely accuse me of Pelagianism, and I would accept the label as accurate, especially since I’ve openly defended his views here. So the Pelagian School it is.

  • Jonathan S.

    Anyhoo, bringing us back to the media coverage, I would like to reiterate MattK’s comment (#14) about Rodger’s article that it would have been nice to explain what about Calvinist theology made it a “condemned heresy” to the Orthodox (per Metropolitan Jonah). It’s such a juicy quote and it doesn’t seem right to just leave it there without further explanation.

  • danr

    “We should set up a Second Life coffeehouse.”

    Elizabeth, we Calvinists don’t believe in a second life – Heb 9:27 “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. ;)

    • E.E. Evans

      You guys are very funny. I’m glad to have the humorist post this time.

  • Don Abernethy

    I started out as a Methodist for 20 years,then Church Of God for 20 years, and now a Southern Baptist for 6 years. My son-in-law is a Reformed pastor. I do not agree with the tulip doctrine of Calvin. I am,and will always be,pre-trib. To have a civil conversation with my intellectual Reformed son-in-law I have to insist we stay on the areas of the Bible that are black and white (like John 3:16) and stay away from grey areas like predestination. By the way I don’t recall ever seeing John Calvin’s name in the Bible.

  • Stephen A.

    Don: Exactly.

  • B. Banner

    Very interesting to read about Neo-Calvinism. My eyes glaze over and I sigh at the thought that some dogma is going to dressed up new wineskins. I grew up in a Calvinist denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (aka the Covenanters). Heard about TULIP, the regulative principle of worship, exclusive psalmody, ‘close’communion until I thought I’d run screaming from the sanctuary. As a woman, Neo-Calvinism holds little attraction. Seems like a re-hash of the muscular Christianity a la the early 20th c. Borden of Yale. I just started blogging about growing up in the RP church. Good luck to all the white guys . . . .

  • Stephen A.

    B. Banner – Revulsion towards Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism is not limited to, or by, one’s race or gender, and frankly I don’t see the connection to either criterion.

    I not only thought about running out of my Presbyterian Denomination, I actually did run. And I’m a white guy.

    Now, if one wants to discuss the feminization of Mainline Christianity… ;-)

  • B. Banner

    My bad, Stephen. :-)