Rightly Defining Calvinism; Restoring Biblical Consistency

I’m feeling frustrated by a fellow believer who opted to fuel the fire of dissension by persistently misrepresenting the reformed understanding of how one is saved in Christ. We really must put aside assumptions that would cause a ceasing of dialog with those we disagree with. We have nothing to fear in searching for truth in every issue and allowing for the honest examining of each other’s position…especially issues of extreme significance, like the gospel of salvation.

Below is a discussion I had on Facebook with another reformed brother, Edward Dalcour, in which I sook some clarity on a misrepresentation I perceived was coming from an “anti-Calvinist.”

“Me: I was called a troll recently in an online blog forum and was blocked. I had made a comment that I felt much of the American church needs to be evangelized. My testimony speaks to the ignorance of the doctrines of grace in much of the popular American church, and since I’ve been awakened to them I have been drinking from the fountain of grace that spills through them. My desire is to share these things with others in my non-denominational church in patience and gentleness praying for God’s mercy. This guy was pissed at the thought of this, thinking that the church isn’t the ground for reform but the world. Meh.

I recognize that the objector who blocked me suffers from anti-Calvinist syndrome but one of the questions he asked was this; “what was Calvin reforming, either A. The church. Or B. Roman Catholicism. I pointed to a definition of reformation that rediscovered the sovereignty of God in salvation (I think he blocked me because I refused to answer his fallacious either/or question) as the over arching light we should focus on.

In the end he basically asked me how I can follow a man who justified killing the opponents who disagreed with him theologically. I’ve never read Calvin and I haven’t even started my bible history classes yet but perhaps you could point to some good resources to read on this subject? I assume there is a valid concern to the manner in which Calvin may have operated in the civil realm…again, I’m assuming here and have never studied him.

I recognize that in most cases whenever we humans oppose a position the tendency is not to rightly represent your opponent when trying to refute it. Trying to learn…thoughts?

In response to me, Anthony linked to this awesome historian’s article that articulates a thorough narrative of Calvin’s achievements and motive; http://www.the-highway.com/theocracy_Horton.html

^^^^Highly recommend^^^^

Dr. Dalcour responded to my inquiry: Abram, I find three main problems with the anti-Calvinists. 1) many are historically challenged, thus assuming John Calvin “invented” the *doctrines of grace*–so they naturally attack the man, 2) many are theologically misinformed as to what the “doctrines of grace” (also known as Calvinism) actually teaches (typically, they assume inappropriately a hyper-Calvinistic view), and

3) many passages such as John 3:16 and 2 Pet. 3:9 are interpreted in light of tradition,.not exegetical confirmation; not considering the entire content of biblical revelation in which we find a positive affirmation of God’s sovereignty in His election “according to the kind intention of His will.”

Me: What is a proper definition of “hyper-Calvinism?”

Ed: A hyper-Calvinistic view is an unbiblical view and thus a crass misrepresentation of what Calvinism teaches. Hyper-Calvinism asserts in essence, God dragging a person kicking and screaming (against their will) unto salvation or damnation.”

***end of Facebook portion of discussion***

I myself, coming from a non-denominational background, with no known traditions to share with my reformed brothers, have come to share in the doctrines of grace through some of their expositions of scripture available online. I am not undertaking to stir controversy with those who haven’t embraced calvinism in my fellowship, nor am I looking to leave, but I am praying that God spreads the joy and fullness of this blessed knowledge to my brothers and sisters should He will it in His timing.

I’ve become convinced that many are just ignorant, as I was ignorant, (and therefor unduly burdened by a works mentality) of the sustaining spiritual food supply made available through the systematic exposition of the bible’s position on God’s freedom in salvation and the resulting comfort provided in the eternal assurance this understanding brings. My hope is that God gives me the grace to share the awesome truth of His grace with my fellowship and that His mercy spreads like wildfire.

We ought to pray for grace…for the long-suffering love required to teach what the bible teaches in a spirit of gentleness. The challenge is with those who haven’t learned to avoid the fallacious worldview which assumes Calvinism to be a disease in the church. We need grace to articulate in love the reality that the doctrines of Grace (Calvinism) truly serve as an antibiotic that restores biblical consistency.

This post title isn’t meant to say that only Calvinists can restore biblical literacy to the church; I acknowledge that God uses all His children in all the differing shapes of clay we are made of. My aim is in rightly representing a position which throughout my lifelong experience in church has been utterly misrepresented. To that end, this is the most accurate definition I’ve come to thus far: Calvinism isn’t the following of a man but a systematic rediscovery of the true teaching of scripture regarding the sovereignty of God over salvation.

8 thoughts on “Rightly Defining Calvinism; Restoring Biblical Consistency

  1. Welcome to the online world of discussing theology!

    The response you received is EXTREMELY typical and mirrors the democrat / republican arguments that occur on line. If you challenge Calvinism or promote it, you will be chastised by someone. Sometimes you will get beat down!

    If I could share three important lessons I have learned in my online theology discussions they would be:.

    1. Don’t do the same thing to other people! Don’t be that person to someone else.

    2. Value clarity over agreement: Seek to understand why some one rejects Calvin rather than condemning them for rejecting his teachings. At the end of the discussion you can simply and truthfully proclaim “I understand your position, and we just disagree.” OR, your own views might be severely challenged and that is always a good thing.

    3.. Recognize that there are numerous believers who categorically reject the Reformed view, but are followers of Christ nevertheless. Understanding and embracing the Reformed view of salvation is not a requirement for following Christ.

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    • Thanks for the kind words Jim. I certainly am a witness to the fact that reformed theology doesnt save a sinner, Christ does that work through the preached gospel, a gospel that comes through jars of clay. Everyone has their blind spots but those who belong to Christ will hear His voice. I have found that in my pursuits in sanctification, reformed teachers who desire to stand on scripture alone, handle the text as honestly as they can. I like that a lot and the joy of my salvation has been restored by the hearing of sound doctrine through some ministries like that of RC Sproul, James White, etc.

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      • “I have found that in my pursuits in sanctification, reformed teachers who desire to stand on scripture alone, handle the text as honestly as they can.”

        We had a great conversation about Scripture alone over at Not for itching ears. Protestant, Catholic and even Orthodox views were shared in a winsome spirit. The gist of the post was that even we Protestants rely heavily on tradition when we interpret the scriptures. Our tradition is found in Luther, Knox, Calvin and the other Reformers.

        http://notforitchingears.com/2014/12/14/questioning-our-protestant-tradition-of-sola-scriptura/

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      • That seems to me to be an odd definition for tradition given the context for Luther’s protest; mainly, that we are justified by faith alone. Alone, being the keyword. The protest shouldnt be construed as something traditional but as a rediscovery of true salvation as revealed in the scripture. Indeed, the protest still stands; any commitment to that isn’t a commitment to traditionalism but to biblical consistancy and to truth.

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  2. I know it is unsettling to even consider this, but how Luther interpreted faith alone is our tradition. Up until that point, the church had never understood scripture in the new way that the Reformers came to understand it.

    Tradition, in the sense that I am using it, is more of an aid to how we understand the scriptures. We protestants understand scripture the way we do NOT because that is how the universal church has always understood the scriptures, but because that is how the Reformers understood things. That understanding has been passed down from generation to generation until today. It permeates everything we read and it influences all of our answers to serious questions.

    The tradition of Sola Scriptura, was never embraced by the early church. That is an indisputable historic fact. I am not saying that this is wrong or right. What I argue is that we have our tradition too.

    Nobody just uses the scriptures. That seems so obvious to me now.

    Merry Christmas!
    .

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    • Justification by faith alone is not a Lutherin concept, it is a scriptural one. Luther only re-discovered it. The scripture is clear, it always has been. Rome had twisted it and Luther’s concience was held captive by the authority of the scripture…as ours should be. Salvation belongs to the Lord.

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  3. “Justification by faith alone is not a Lutherin concept.”

    You are right or course. It is a Protestant concept, and all of us Protestants, for the most part, believe this is the right interpretation of Scripture as a whole. The Catholic and Orthodox don’t share our view. In fact, my Orthodox friends take great pleasure in reminding me that the only time “Faith” and “Alone” appear in the same verse together is in James 2:24, where it states that man is NOT justified by faith “alone.” Their view is also “Scriptural”, at least to them. In fact that say their view is actually word for word scripture!

    In the case of the Orthodox church, they can trace their views back to the very beginning of church history. The early church Fathers unanimously reject Calvin’s ideas of TULIP. Don’t take a Reformed Theologians opinion on this one. Go directly to the source and read the early church Fathers unfiltered and uninterrupted. Michael Holmes has a very readable text in English that I highly recommend as a great source. Find it here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Apostolic-Fathers-English-Michael-Holmes-ebook/dp/B0085BA9G6

    We believe what we believe because that is what we have been taught by our Reformed tradition. I am not saying that what Protestants believe is wrong, by any means. Simply that when we read our Bibles, we are reading them through the filter of the great men of God, the theologians and the Fathers of our traditions.

    If the Reformation never happened, you an I would interpret the scriptures differently than we do. I

    “The scripture is clear, it always has been.”

    Would you say Scripture was clear to Arminius? Somehow, I don’t suspect you would say that it was. What you are really saying is that it is clear to you or at least clear to those you trust. That doesn’t necessarily make the view infallible, but it also doesn’t settle it as a wider issue. It might settle it for you, but not everyone else.

    I am convinced that the views all of us hold are shaped by the views of others and NOT simply the Bible alone. As a protestant follower of Christ myself, I don’t have any real issues with this reality. I

    At any rate, I hit the follow button on your blog and look forward to more of your writing!

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    • I appreciate the comments and the follow, good dialog here for sure. It’s nice to be able to discuss these issues without slinging shallow rhetoric.

      Interpretation is subject to change, but scripture itself doesn’t. The context has always remained the same since it was penned. I think the authority and the sufficiency of scripture are important to note in the discussion of the protestant view of salvation. Nothing else can be added to Christ’s finished work and we must allow the scripture to speak how that work is revealed. That’s why the solas are so important, they remind us what our final authority and rule is, and who alone did what we could not on our behalf.

      Thank God for the saints He raised up on whose shoulders we stand. Our heritage is rich, full of controversy, debate, complexity and beauty. So much to glean from, so much to learn. Obviously the Bible is the ultimate rule and final authority but yes, all those other believers after Christ are ours to read for our growth and edification. All that is in Christ is ours. All that is in Christ seeks to harmonize with His Word.

      Our traditions must always be subject to reform. The Bible is a timeless critique of man; God forbid we ever allow our critiques of His Word to structure our worship of Him. We are called to worship in Spirit and Truth. He is the truth, and our commitment must be to a consistancy to His whole counsel.

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