When I Say “Calvinism”…

When I Say “Calvinism”… November 24, 2014

Whenever I write about Calvinism, someone who considers himself a Calvinist accuses me of setting up and striking down a “strawman.” And others claim what I say about Calvinism does not apply to them. What to do?

When I write about Calvinism, unless I say otherwise, I mean consistent, historical, classical Calvinism AS SET FORTH BY Calvin,  Owen, Edwards, Hodge, Boettner, Sproul and Piper and AS EXPRESSED in the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession of Faith. What I am talking ab out is a CONSENSUS that is summarized by “T.U.L.I.P.” and includes both meticulous providence (what I call “divine determinism”) and double predestination.

Now, of course (!), anyone can call herself a Calvinist. There’s no law against it. But when I argue against “Calvinism” (as I have explained in Against Calvinism) I am talking about classical, “high federal” Calvinism or what even some Reformed theologians call “decretal theology”–that everything that happens without exception is decreed by God and falls within his antecedent will (not consequent will).

If you think that’s not “true Calvinism,” you MUST read Against Calvinism where I have provided numerous quotes from most of the theologians mentioned above to prove that this is “consensus Calvinism” (as opposed to revisionist Calvinism).

A question that arises from this Calvinism and for anyone who embraces it is “Can God really ‘want’ everyone to be saved?” A true Calvinist of this original variety (paleo-Calvinist) cannot affirm that without falling into contradiction.

To Calvinists who say otherwise I say: Remember your doctrine of divine providence!

Many Calvinists seem to forget their own doctrine of providence, God’s sovereignty over history, when they attempt to soften Calvinist soteriology or explain it in a way that rescues God’s goodness. DO NOT FORGET that in classical Calvinism God foreordained the fall; the fall and all its consequences unfold according to a divine blueprint. They are all what God wanted to happen. When classical Calvinist theologians use “permission” language they mean “efficacious permission”–that God willed the fall (for example) to happen and created a situation in which he knew it would happen exactly as he wished it to happen. All they mean by “permission” is that God did not directly cause the fall, but they do not mean God merely permitted it reluctantly (which Arminianism says).

So don’t accuse me of setting up a “strawman” when I describe and argue against Calvinism unless you are prepared and able to explain how my description does not fit classical, historical Calvinism such as taught by Calvin and the other theologians I named above. If my description does not fit your belief, well, good. But don’t call your belief Calvinism and expect me to recognize it as such. I will call it “revised” or “revisionist” Calvinism and probably critique it as internally incoherent.

Browse Our Archives