I feel like mulling over Calvinism (a.k.a. Reformed Theology, a.k.a.The Doctrines of Grace) today. The first thing that jumps at me is the re-branding that’s been done to it over the years. Something about it has proved troubling enough that the same product has been placed in new packaging in an attempt to sell it to those who were turned off by the original packaging. The last two names are fairly new; so the re-branding is a recent effort. Perhaps they think it’ll be a better sell, “We’re called Christianity – we can’t be going around promoting John Calvin’s teachings as more important than the guy our religion is named after!” Or “We don’t want to be associated with that kind of Calvinism that didn’t get it quite right and has disgraced what true Calvinists believe – so we’ll call it Reformed Theology or The Doctrines of Grace and try to get right this time.”
Now I know of Calvinism as quite basically, TULIP:
- Total Depravity: (a.k.a. Total Inability) all mankind is sinful through and through, his will, his emotion, and his thinking. Every part of a human being is corrupted by sin.
- Unconditional Election: before creation, God has chosen some people for salvation and some people for damnation – not because of who they are or anything they had done or would do.
- Limited Atonement: (a.k.a. Particular Redemption, a.k.a. Definite Atonement) Christ’s blood atones for the sins of the elect.
- Irresistible Grace: (a.k.a. Efficacious Grace) The Holy Spirit enables the elect to come to saving knowledge and faith in God, they cannot resist God’s grace.
- Perseverance of the Saints:(a.k.a. Perseverance of God With the Saints) The elect cannot lose their faith or salvation, God will see to it that they will continue in the faith.
Yet when I asked about Reformed Theology, some additional parameters were factored into it:
The Five Solas (Which seem to me to be saying Protestants are right, Catholics are wrong.)
- Sola Fide, by faith alone. (Works won’t save you.)
- Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone. (Tradition won’t save you.)
- Solus Christus, through Christ alone. (Salvation is by grace through faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.)
- Sola Gratia, by grace alone. (Works won’t save you.)
- Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone. (Everything that is done is done for God’s glory.)
Having established how not-Catholic your beliefs, you, you get to have:
- an extremely profound view of the Sovereignty of God: “What do we mean by [the sovereignty of God]? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.“” A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, chapter 1.
- to be a five-point Calvinist (it’s all or nothing, here; it’s also to affirm how not-Arminian your beliefs are.)
- to affirm the great creeds of the church (they all seem to be basic summaries of traditional beliefs such as the gospel):
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. Who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen. ” – The Nicene Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen. – The Apostles’ Creed
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty; And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; And yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord; so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say: There are three Gods or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three persons are co-eternal, and co-equal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and made of the substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God. One altogether, not by the confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; And shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved. – Athanasian Creed (though it seems to me those who are debating about the Eternal Subordination of the Son, a.k.a. the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission seem to not really know this one that well, so it might be optional.)
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us. – The Definition of Chalcedon (See also, the Anathemas of the 2nd Council of Constantinople for further details.)
- to affirm one or more (more is always better than less) confessions of the church:
Westminster Confession (there are twenty nine chapters! Not including the additions or the modifications or expositions thereof)
Augsburg Confession, Scottish Confession of Faith, Cannons of Dordt, Baptist Confession of Faith. (Take your pick. I’m not really sure what to make of them or why they’re important or what purpose they serve – I’m guessing a summary of Calvinism and Christianity in the context of application at church?)
- to affirm the covenants in Scripture – (no clue on what to make of all these or what they have to do with me.)
covenant of works – (a.k.a.) covenant of life (a.k.a.) covenant of creation. It was made in the Garden of Eden between Good and Adam who represented all mankind as a federal head. It promised life for perfect and perpetual obedience and death for disobedience. It continues to function as the moral law.
covenant of grace – promises eternal life for all who have faith in Christ, promises the Holy Spirit to the elect to enable them to believe.
Covenant of redemption – the eternal agreement within the Godhead in which the Father appointed the Son to become human and die as a federal head to make a substitution atonement for sin. In return, God promises to raise Christ from the dead, glorify him, and give him a people. (I’m not really sure how we know about this one. I’m imagining a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors where Father, Son and Spirit chose Rock, Paper, Scissors respectively.)
Adamic Covenant – a covenant of works which failed.
Noahic Covenant – something about a rainbow, I think.
Abrahamic Covenant – God makes promises to Abraham which really aren’t about Abraham at all, he’s a stand-in for the Christian church which God will bring about hundreds of years into the future.
Mosaic Covenant – Basically the Law of Moses, the creation of the temple worship system.
Moabite Covenant – Something about circumcision of the heart, I think.
Davidic Covenant – God promises that David’s descendants will reign forever as a foreshadowing of Jesus.
New Covenant – Replaces temple worship with Jesus’ substitutionary atonement.
- It means to take seriously the Great Commission, preaching and teaching to all nations, making disciples – that sort of thing. (Except you don’t have to bother with the not-elect, they can’t be saved and are a waste of resources.)
- And it means to have a distinctly Christian worldview about absolutely everything. (Possibly meaning be a Young-Earth Creationist and a Complementarian?)
Does all that make sense to you? To me, it doesn’t. Every time I look at it, try to search these terms online, I hit roadblocks. It’s frustrating and has probably made me a little cynical about the whole thing. A lot of the time it’s people talking sort of funny – constantly backing up these ideas with words and numbers called Bible references that seem to stretch on endlessly. Sure, you’ll find all of it somewhere in the Bible. And all sorts of things that are in the Bible but not mentioned somewhere in the list. Sometimes they use big -ism or -tion words. Or it could be a reference to a teaching or concept that they expect you to already know – “eschatology”. There are too many conversations going on that I can’t follow – so I don’t even try. Sometimes it’s nuanced to no end, as if the author is trying to tie up every loose end and dot every i and cross every t. I can’t imagine the first ten minutes of heaven including a pop quiz where this material is essential to salvation. It’s almost contradictory, isn’t it? To believe in “faith alone” and yet be “confessional, creedal, and covenantal”?
I try my best to educate myself on these things – so that I can speak something of the language of those who believe in it – but I can’t help but feel as if it’s all missing the forest for the trees. When I read about what Jesus taught, he used simple parables: “A woman lost a few coins. She emptied out her entire house, cleaned it top to bottom, searched high and low until she found them. Then she called up her friends and had a party!” (if they weren’t “elect” coins she needed not have bothered. Perhaps they were “elect” coins and it shows that God will do anything to find them.) “A fisherman cast his nets wide, when he hauled in the fish, he counted every last one – there were hundreds of them!” (They must all have been “elect” fish, not “elect” fish must not have been netted.) “Heaven’s like a tall tree, birds of every kind come to it and call it home.” (I got nothing on this one.) I get it that in Jesus’ day, people just weren’t as educated – but let’s not kid ourselves, just because we use fancy -ism and -tion words it doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed salvation based on what we know.
What I don’t like, most of all, is how utterly confusing it all is. Parts of it affirm parts of Scripture, but having read the whole book myself, I know that parts of it de-emphasize other parts of Scripture that are contradictory to what it affirms to be true. Like trying to define the incomprehensible is trying to explain everything in the Bible and yet that’s all it seems to be doing. Every now and then I challenge somebody to explain it to me – but nobody ever does. The thing is – I’m aware that Christians were born and raised, lived and died, were converted into some basic form of Christianity for hundreds of years before Calvinism appeared on the scene. And that’s what I’d like to think that I believe in. The same saving faith taught by the apostles to the early church, handed down from one generation to the next – no bells and whistles.
So what’s the appeal of Calvinism to you? Can you explain it to me?