This post is written by Wes Vander Lugt
Featuring: Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, eds., Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Wipf and Stock, 2012).
You are mistaken if you think Calvinists are all cut from the same cloth. As Habets and Grow explain in their introduction, evangelical Calvinism seeks to chart a middle way between conservative (or federal) Calvinism and liberal Calvinism. Evangelical Calvinism is not to be confused with the new-Calvinist or neo-Reformed movement. Rather, they explain it more as a mood than a movement, one that shares a common boundary with evangelicalism in terms focusing on Christ, valuing the witness of Scripture, and making much of the gospel. They also point out that while conservative Calvinists prefer the Westminster Confession, evangelical Calvinists find most affinity with the Scots Confession and Heidelberg Catechism.
In the second chapter, “The Phylogeny of Calvin’s Progeny,” Charles Partee similarly distinguishes these three types of Calvinism according to the Reformation rubrics of Scripture alone, Faith alone, and Christ alone. Conservative Calvinists champion Scripture alone, as represented by Charles Hodge. Liberal Calvinists champion Faith alone, especially as interpreted by Schleiermacher through the lens of religious experience. Evangelical Calvinists champion Christ alone, represented by Karl Barth and many Scottish theologians. In fact, based on the theologian most often quoted in this book, it would seem that T. F. Torrance deserves the title of ‘patron saint’ for evangelical Calvinists.
There are many brilliant essays in this book that explore various aspects of evangelical Calvinism, and it would be impossible to summarize them all. Perhaps it is most helpful to list the fifteen theses offered by the editors in the final chapter. They are careful to point out that not all the contributors to the book would agree with every thesis, but this is the editors’ attempt to develop evangelical Calvinism as a “definable position within the Reformed tradition.”
- The Holy Trinity is the absolute ground and grammar of all epistemology, theology, and worship.
- The primacy of God’s triune life is grounded in love, for “God is love.”
- There is one covenant of grace.
- God is primarily covenantal and not contractual in his dealing with humanity.
- Election is christologically conditioned.
- Grace precedes law.
- Assurance is of the essence of faith.
- Evangelical Calvinism endorses a supralapsarian Christology which emphasizes the doctrine of the primacy of Christ.
- Evangelical Calvinism is a form of dialogical/dialectical theology.
- Evangelical Calvinism places an emphasis upon the doctrine of union with/in Christ whereby all the benefits of Christ are ours.
- Christ lived, died, and rose again for all humanity, thus Evangelical Calvinism affirms a doctrine of universal atonement.
- Universalism is not a corollary of universal redemption and is not constitutive for Evangelical Calvinism.
- There is no legitimate theological concept of double predestination as construed in the tradition of Reformed Scholasticism.
- The atonement is multifaceted and must not be reduced to one culturally conditioned atonement theory but, rather, to a theologically unified but multi-faceted atonement model.
- Evangelical Calvinism is in continuity with the Reformed confessional tradition.
It should be pointed out that both liberal and conservative Calvinists, depending on how conservative or liberal they are, would affirm many of these theses. The spectrum within these two camps means that, for example, some conservative Calvinists might only affirm a couple of these theses while others might affirm a majority. Certainly, each thesis deserves to be unpacked, but in just reading all of them listed here, I am curious to your responses to the following questions:
- What theses are most surprising, and how does this change, if at all, your conception of Calvinism?
- Do you see this proposal for evangelical Calvinism as a legitimate ‘middle way’ between conservative and liberal Calvinism? Why or why not?
- For conservative Calvinists who are closer to the center but still would not endorse each thesis, which ones would cause them the most concern?