I have been quite open on this blog that I am a Calvinist. Because of my openness in advocating for and defending Calvinism, I often get attacked by rabid anti-Calvinists; people who think that Calvinism is illogical, foolish and the “Devil’s Doctrine.” I have been called a heretic by some, foolish by others, and biblically illiterate by the rest. I felt it might be useful to write an article that gives my reasons for why I am a Calvinist as opposed to just defending Calvinism. So here we go, first some preliminary comments and then five reasons why I am a Calvinist.
Let me first state that I am not a Calvinist because of John Calvin. Up until recently (and much to my chagrin) I haven’t even read John Calvin. Last summer I began reading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion for the first time, and I only got through book #1. I am a Calvinist because I’ve read other Calvinists who have expounded the particular doctrines of Calvinism in a forceful and cogent manner and I found their arguments compelling especially when I examined them in light of Scripture. Secondly, while I happily claim the label “Calvinist” for myself, I do so only for expedience. I am not a disciple of John Calvin, and I’m sure John Calvin wouldn’t want me to be a disciple of his. If pressed for a more accurate title, I say I’m a proponent of the Doctrines of Grace, or I’m a proponent of Reformed Theology. Calvin was one of the leading figures in the formulation of Reformed Theology, or the Doctrines of Grace. However, because those teachings have gone under the name of Calvinism, I use that title because it is so identified with those doctrines.
Now onto the five reasons why I am a Calvinist (in no particular order):
- I hold a high view of the sovereignty of God
- I hold a high view of the fallenness of man
- I hold a high view of an effective salvation
- I hold a high view of the inspiration of Scripture
- I hold a high view of the necessity and sufficiency of divine grace
Let’s examine each reason a little more closely.
The Sovereignty of God. Calvinism has a high view of the sovereignty of God. Let us first define what that means. To say “God is sovereign,” is to say that “God is in control of everything.” Most Christians would agree with that statement, however, while most Christians would agree with that statement, they would disagree with the logical conclusions of that statement. What do I mean by that? Theologically speaking, Christianity can be broken down into two basic camps: Monergists and Synergists. Monergists are those who believe that God works alone in salvation. In fact, that’s what the root of the word “monergism” means, “to work alone.” Synergists believe that God “works together” with man in salvation. In other words, God gets the ball rolling, but man makes the crucial final decision in salvation. What does any of this have to do with the sovereignty of God? Plenty! Synergism necessarily exalts the free will of man. In order for synergism to work, man must have an autonomous free will. But as we shall see when we examine the second point, man does not have an autonomous free will. Man is a creature, and as such, his will is subject to God’s sovereignty. If God is sovereign – i.e., he has complete control over everything – doesn’t that also include the free choices of man? In other words, could man make a choice that 1) God doesn’t know about in advance, and 2) could in any way, shape or form be outside God’s sovereign decree? God’s sovereign decree, which governs everything, covers man’s free choices as well as everything else. If man is autonomous, then God is not sovereign because there would be something outside of the sovereign will of God; which is patently absurd.
The Fallenness of Man. Calvinism also holds to a radical view of man’s fallenness. This, like the sovereignty of God, also receives lip service from the majority of Christians. Most Christians profess the radical fallenness of man, but ignorantly deny its consequences. The bible makes quite clear (e.g., Romans 8:7; 1 Corinthians 2:14; and other places) that man, in his natural state (i.e., his fallen state) cannot please God and will not come to God. Calvinists, such as Jonathan Edwards and others, refer to this fallen state of man as his moral inability. Moral inability means sinful man lacks the desire to choose the things of God. He has the natural ability to choose God (nothing is coercing him to not choose God), but his desire is to be autonomous from God. Sinful man’s moral inability is wonderfully illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the ten minas (Luke 19), when the citizens of the king say, “We do not want this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). Any theology that denies man’s radical fallenness (i.e., that the fall effects man to the core of his being) isn’t faithful to the teaching of Scripture on this matter. Man in his fallen state is, as Augustine of Hippo said all these centuries ago, non posse non peccare, or “not able to not sin.” Yet there are those who want to give to fallen man a sliver of moral ability. They argue that if man cannot freely choose God, then salvation is meaningless. They come up with doctrines like prevenient grace to say that God grants a type of grace to all men that puts him in a neutral position as to his will so that he can choose to respond, or not respond, to the offer of the gospel. That’s a nice theory, but there is nothing in all of Scripture that speaks of a prevenient grace! Plus it completely ignores the Bible’s own description of our fallen state. Man is dead in sin and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1), he is a slave to sin (Romans 6:17) and he is at enmity with God (Romans 8:7). However, those who reject Calvinism want to say that man is only terminally ill, not dead; somewhat free, not a slave; and somewhat open, not completely hostile to God. That’s fine to believe that, but it’s not in the Bible.
An Effective Salvation. Another things Calvinism teaches is an effective salvation. What I mean by that is that the death of Christ upon the cross secured an actual salvation for those whom it was intended. This is the heart of the doctrine of Limited, or Definite, Atonement. Jesus Christ died to save his people from their sin. This is what Scripture explicitly teaches when Jesus himself says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). When you look at the nature of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, you see that his work was a propitiatory work; it appeased the wrath of God for our sin. It was also an expiatory work; it removed the guilt that our sin incurred. The work of Christ was also a reconciling work; it brought reconciliation between God as the offended party and man as the offending party. Finally, Christ’s work was a redeeming work; it bought his people back from slavery to sin and death. All of these aspects of Christ’s saving work speak of it as effective. Because it was an effective salvation, it must necessarily be a definitive, or particular, salvation – Christ did not die for all men, but only for some men; namely, his sheep. In contrast, those who oppose Calvinism assert that Christ died for all men, and in so doing they limit the effectiveness of the atonement. Christ didn’t actually save anyone, but makes all men savable. This concept is foreign to Scripture. Yet Synergists must redefine the atonement because if they say Christ died for all men and they hold to the orthodox view of the atonement, they become, in essence, full universalists. Yet the Bible is quite clear that not all men will be saved, so the nature of the atonement is changed to fit in with the notion that Christ died for all. However, a careful examination of passages that, on the surface, seem to teach a universal application to the death of Christ (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2) will yield that the universalists misinterpret these passages.
The Inspiration of Scripture. Here is another thing that most Christians would agree with, but in the final analysis seems to be lacking in those who deny Calvinism. Now I know that’s a pretty bold statement to make, but it bears up under scrutiny. The Calvinist allows Scripture to speak for itself, and thus the Calvinist holds to some doctrines that are not popular to a human point of view. I submit that it is the Synergists who interpret Scripture through the grid of their humanist understanding that gets them into exegetical trouble. If Scripture truly is the very word of God (and it is), then it must inform our theology, not the reverse. Scripture is pretty clear on the sovereignty of God, the fallenness of man and the effectiveness of Christ’s saving work. Yet the Synergist must exalt the autonomy of man, deny his radical fallenness and assert that Christ died to make all men savable in order to make sense of their theology. The fact of the matter is that none of these things are supported in Scripture, so they are read into Scripture; which is the very opposite of letting Scripture speak for itself. It is synergism and its denial of these doctrines that is the logical stepping stone toward theological liberalism. If you deny the sovereignty of God, exalt the autonomy of man and make the work of Christ universal, you are well on your way to theological liberalism, which just takes synergism to its logical conclusion.
The Necessity and Sufficiency of Divine Grace. Last, but not least, Calvinism exalts both the necessity and sufficiency of divine grace in salvation. I submit it is this fact alone that explains the difference between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, or between monergists and synergists. All synergists – whether they be Evangelicals, Wesleyan Arminians, or Roman Catholics – argue that divine grace is necessary for salvation, what they, in effect, deny is its sufficiency. This is the core of the slogans of the Reformation – Sola Sctiptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. No Christian would argue that Scripture or faith or grace or Christ is necessary, but the word sola attests to the complete sufficiency of these things. Roman Catholics explicitly deny the sufficiency of these things, whereas Protestant Synergists implicitly deny them. This is why many Reformed accuse Arminians of “crossing the Tiber” back to Rome; Arminian theology is really no different than Catholic theology when it comes to salvation. However, when one examines Scripture, one sees that divine grace is both necessary and sufficient to save the soul. The Apostle Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). When Paul says “it is the gift of God,” he is referring to all that precedes the “it.” Salvation by grace through faith is the gift of God; the faith to believe is as much a gift as the salvation by grace. This is all done so at no one may boast. This is a problem all Synergists have. If salvation is a joint work between God and man, then man has room to boast. Yet man has no room to boast according to the Bible. Salvation is completely and thoroughly a work of God alone.
Okay, I’ve given my top five reasons for why I am a Calvinist. I recognize that some of the things I’ve said may rub some the wrong way. I also realize that some will disagree with most of what I said. My intention was not to be overly polemic or to rankle feathers, but rather to lay out my reasons for why I hold to the doctrine commonly referred to as Calvinism. If my remarks appear somewhat caustic, it is because I recognize that the differences between Monergists and Synergists goes to the core of the gospel.
With that said, I welcome any and all comments as long as they are civil and on point.
Soli Deo Gloria!