The Legacy of John Calvin – Part 1
John Calvin’s day of birth 500 years ago on July 10, 1509 is a red letter day on the Protestants calendar this year. While many disillusioned clergy and congregates in the emergent church, who have lost their faith in the institutionalized church, are seeking new ways of interpreting the Bible and worshiping God, Calvinism has remained robust and alive in institutionalized Protestant churches.
In fact, many claim that Calvinism is experiencing an international resurgence. The most alarming fact about this resurgence is that Calvinism is finding a cozy niche in the Emerging Church, especially through its outreach to the youth, which makes it one of the vanguards in the establishment of the end-time one-world church. Michael Beck, a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church in New Zealand says:
“There is currently a world wide resurgence of Calvinistic thought that is sure to have a growing influence upon the emerging church in New Zealand. This, in turn, is very likely to present the Reformed community with many unique ministry opportunities. So as to be ready for these, we should be both well informed and warmly engaged. ” (Read article here).
The question we should ask ourselves is: Has Calvinism saddled the Emerging Church horse with an intent to firmly take hold of the reins and steer the “horse” wherever it wills (no pun intended when you take into account that Calvinists reject the doctrine of free-will) or is it merely sitting on the “horse’s” back and allowing the “horse” to hold the reins in its mouth and allowing it to take Calvinism wherever it wills?
New Calvinism of which Mark Driscoll (pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle) is a leading figure, is not “new” in the sense of being different or novel. The term “new” in New Calvinism refers to a new generation embracing “old” or “genuine” or “original” Calvinism.
Even Rob Bell, one of the most influential pastors in the Emergent Church, urges the readers on page 182 of his book Velvet Elvis to read absolutely everything John Piper (a five-point Calvinist) has written. To entertain you with some of the things John Piper has written, allow me to draw your attention to the following brilliant contradiction.
We do not deny that all men are the intended beneficiaries of the cross in some sense . . . . . What we deny is that all men are intended as the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in the same way.
All of God’s mercy toward unbelievers – from the rising sun (Matthew 5:45) to the worldwide preaching of the gospel (John 3:16) – is made possible because of the cross. . . . Every time the gospel is preached to unbelievers it is the mercy of God that gives this opportunity for salvation. (Emphasis in original) (1) Christ’s death so clearly demonstrates God’s just abhorrence of sin that he is free to treat the world with mercy without compromising his righteousness.
In this sense Christ is the savior of all men. But he is especially the Savior of those who believe. He did not die for all men in the same sense . . . . The death of Christ actually saves from all evil those for whom Christ died “especially. [Emphasis in original] (2)
In some sense Calvinism may be called the IN SOME SENSE GOSPEL when the cross of Jesus Christ is applied to the reprobate and the IN THE SAME SENSE GOSPEL when it is applied to the elect. The “IN THE SOME SENSE GOSPEL” preached to the reprobate cannot possibly benefit the non-elect “IN THE SAME SENSE” it benefits the elect.
Think of it: two simple little letters in the alphabet, the “o” and the “a” determine where you are going to spend eternity – heaven or hell. If you belong to the “o” category Gospel (“some sense) you are doomed to eternal destruction in hell because it can never benefit you in the same way it benefits the “a” category (same sense) elected people.
If the preaching of the Gospel is to grant unbelievers in general an opportunity to be saved, how do we determine which is the “SOME SENSE GOSPEL” and which is the SAME SENSE GOSPEL” folk?
It shouldn’t be to difficult. Imagine Jesus preaching to the “some sense” folk and the “same sense” folk saying: “You and you and you and yes you too (don’t walk away) and the folk who are standing over there, please move to my left because I have determined before the foundation of the earth that you will be the “some sense” beneficiaries of my death.
What does that mean, you may ask. Well it simply means that you cannot benefit from my death on the cross “in the same way” my beloved chosen or elect are benefitting from it. They are the ones I will now draw in power and monergistically to my right.
Let us now take a look at the “old” Calvinism which the new generation is embracing under the tutorship of leading Calvinists. Calvin’s major contribution to the Christian church is his Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in 1536.
Though many staunch Calvinists regard him as the most ingenuous expositor and defender of the Christian faith, there are others who cannot stomach some of the means he used to defend the Christian faith, such as the murder of Servetus. Enough has been written about his dictatorial behaviour in Geneva and it is not my intention to expound on the way he governed the church.
My main objective is to evaluate his sotereology (doctrine of redemption) in the light of the Word of God. It is on this particular topic, the appraisal of Calvin’s doctrine of redemption, that I want to appeal to my readers to bear with me and also to take into account that I am not focusing my discourse on individuals but merely trying to obey God’s Word by being a Berean and to see whether Calvin’s teachings and of those who follow him are in harmony with God’s Word.
Our duty as Christians is to thoroughly examine any doctrine tied to the name of a man who claims to have had divine inspiration. The most hideous crime against humanity is to misrepresent the most holy Triune God and the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; nothing equals it’s dreadfulness because it “shuts the Kingdom of heaven in men’s faces” (Matthew 23:13). No wonder the Bible warns that whosoever does not speak according to His Word is void of any light.
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word , it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8: 20-KJV)
Am I suggesting that Calvinists are not saved? No! Absolutely not. Countless individuals have been saved by the grace of God the moment they put their trust in Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross before they embraced Calvinism.
Nevertheless, the countless individuals who have been saved before they willingly inherited the legacy of John Calvin, does not sanction his core teaching that God predestined some to eternal bliss and others to eternal damnation and neither does it minimize the fact that countless individuals could have been saved had they not been shut out of the Kingdom of Heaven by a doctrine that misrepresents the God of the Bible.
Paul, unquestionably the greatest missionary of all time, never danced to the most popular heretical tunes of his time; he often wielded the Sword of the Spirit swiftly and accurately (Galatians 1:8 and 9).
The slightest diversion from the Gospel of Jesus Christ wounded him deeply, even to the extent that he often wept very bitterly. His constant agony over his Jewish brethren made him express the wish to be damned in their place. In my rebuttal to Bob de Waay, who wrote an article entitled “Recovering Reformation Theology,” I responded as follows:
Moses’ and Paul’s compassion for lost souls upsets John Calvin’s doctrine of selective and predestined redemption.
Calvinists claim that the doctrine of predestination is a Pauline doctrine. I have often wondered why Paul preferred to be accursed (separated) from the eternal presence of God for the sake of his reprobate Jewish brethren (Romans 9: 1-3) whilst he should have known that they were the accursed of God (doomed to a predestined eternal suffering in hell), even before the foundation of the world -simply because it was God’s good pleasure to do so.
As such Paul was in direct conflict with God’s sovereign will and decree and guilty of downright disobedience. On the other hand, it may be that he was completely ignorant of the doctrine of predestination which the Calvinists’ claim originated with him.
Hadn’t he been so oblivious of God’s sovereign decree to damn all the reprobate, simply because it was His good pleasure, he would probably never have had any desire for His “reprobate” brethren to be saved and would never have expressed the desire to be damned in their behalf.
We should bear in mind that Paul vigorously and single-mindedly expressed the desire to imitate His Master in all things and even once declared that he, together with all Christians throughout the ages, have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2: 16).
It simply means, they ought to think and act upon the same principles of love, compassion, longsuffering and graciousness Christ fostered in His own heart when He was on earth.
If Paul and his brethren throughout the ages truly “have/had the mind of Christ,” they too should have taken pleasure in the autonomously decreed damnation of the reprobate and cheerfully obeyed and supported God in His divinely ordained ruling to damn all the reprobate.
Was Paul disobeying God’s sovereign decree to pleasurably damn all the reprobate to hell when he expressed the profound wish to be damned himself so that, if it were possible, all his reprobate brethren could be saved?
One may conclude that Paul’s was a case of the sovereignly elected who for the sake of the sovereignly non-elected passionately desired to become a sovereignly chosen non-elected so that the sovereignly decreed non-elected could be saved. In similar fashion, Moses begged God to blot his name out of his book He had written for the sake of his eternally and sovereignly decreed reprobate brethren (Exodus 31: 32).
The contention, of course, may be that neither Paul nor Moses referred to the children of the flesh (unsaved or non-elect) but the children of the promise whom God had elected unto salvation before the foundation of the earth.
That would turn an oxymoron into an even sillier “oxy-moronic” conclusion, for why would the elect want to be eternally accursed on behalf of the elect while they knew that the elect were sovereignly elected unto salvation before the foundation of the world, and that they would all unreservedly be saved because if they weren’t . . . God would be a dismal failure?
Why would anyone want to go to hell for the sake of those who were elected to go to heaven before the foundation of the earth? Both these scenarios- to be accursed for the non-elect or the elect – are, to say the least, an absolute absurdity.
What is Calvinism?
Calvinism in a nutshell:
- It is clear that Christ did not die to make redemption a mere possibility; He died to actually save people.
- God’s purpose cannot fail (Job 42:2; Isaiah 46:10).
- Therefore every single person for whom He died, shall be saved.
- Nevertheless, not all people are saved.
- Consequently Christ did not die for all people. If it were true that He died for all people He would have been a failure.
The abovementioned conclusions are based on the assumption that man does not have a free-will in regard to his/her salvation. Any degree of free-will on the part of mankind would, according to Calvinist thinking, thwart God’s purpose and belittle his sovereignty to choose whomsoever He wants to save and whomsoever He wants to damn.
This is not only a gross misrepresentation of God’s sovereignty but also a distortion of the fact that man was created in His image. If God is the essence of love, which of course He is, and if his righteousness, justice and love are inseparably intertwined, which of course it is, then it would be unreasonable of Him to force his creatures into a relationship of love and obedience to Him.
The connubial relationship between a man and a woman is singularly the best proof that man was indeed created in the image of God. It not only exemplifies the fact that love can only be defined as true love when it is expressed in a reciprocal partnership, but also the deep truth that Jesus Christ’s Bride submits to Him in love, respect, adoration and worship because she truly loves Him from a heart that chooses to love Him for who He really is.
In order for his Bride to have learned who He really is, she must have come to a knowledge of Him and especially the knowledge of His sacrificial love as He expressed it on his cross. This is precisely why Jesus once said: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (Johan 17:3).
In spite of this, the Calvinists assert that God autonomously, arbitrarily and monergistically saves sinners on the basis that He chose them unto salvation before the foundation of the earth and that they have no will toward their redemption because they are dead in their sins and totally inept to understand, to know or to believe the Gospel.
The relationship between Christ and all the believers are often likened to a marital relationship between a man and a woman and there is a beautiful narrative in the Old Testament which typifies this relationship. There is no need to go into all the detail but suffice is to say that when Abraham sent his bond servant to find a wife for his son Isaac, Rebecca was not forced to go with him. She was asked whether she was willing to go with him.
And her brother and her mother said, Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go. And he said unto them, Hinder me not, seeing the LORD hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master. And they said, We will call the damsel, and enquire at her mouth. And they called Rebecca, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go. (Genesis 24: 48-59). (Emphasis added).
Would or could Rebecca have become Isaac’s wife if she had not been willing to leave her family and accompany Abraham’s servant? Are you married? If so . . . did you force your wife to marry you without allowing her to exercise her own free-will, or did you marry her because she had a mutual love for you?
Marriage is definitely not a one-sided arrangement. . . . or, did you first force your loved one to marry you and then irresistibly place the love you wanted her to have for you in her heart?
If you should agree that she had a mutual love for you which she exercised willingly prior to your marriage, why do you expect God to do far less than you, a mere human being? Because God is the essence of love, He will never monergistically impose or force his love on anyone. It is for this reason that man was given a free-will – to either love God with all his heart, mind and strength or to reject Him with all his heart, mind and strength.
Enforced love is no love at all. The notion that Christ did not die for all people but only for the elect who, by virtue of their total depravity, are completely unable to exercise. faith prior to their salvation, suggests that Christ’s crucifixion saves the elect automatically. Perhaps it would not be wrong to say that only elected automatons are automatically saved by the crucifixion.
To some this may be something of an obnoxious over simplification . . . . but is there another way of explaining the core doctrine of Calvinism? What does the Word of God say?
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out]. (Emphasis added)
“It is written” and “it is also written” are perhaps two of the most important and yet eschewed phrases in Scripture, at least as far as sound discernment is concerned. The well-known saying “every heretic has his own pet Bible verse” may be true but it is equally true that the phrase “it is also written” is one of the best ways to combat heresy. The Lord Jesus Christ used it against the devil when he tempted Him in the desert and every Christian should follow his example.
Mat 4: 5-7 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and placed Him on a turret (pinnacle, gable) of the temple sanctuary.And he said to Him, If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, He will give His angels charge over you, and they will bear you up on their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone.Jesus said to him, on the other hand, it is written also, You shall not tempt, test thoroughly, or try exceedingly the Lord your God.
Many Christians are too easily convinced or bowled over by people who deftly quote Scripture without first evaluating the quoted sections with other similar passages in Scripture and to declare, as did Jesus, “it is also written.” In fact, the mark of a spiritually mature Christian is that he never takes everything for granted and always tests the things other people say, even when they back it up with Scripture.
1 Cor 2:15 But the spiritual man tries all things [he examines, investigates, inquires into, questions, and discerns all things], yet is himself to be put on trial and judged by no one [he can read the meaning of everything, but no one can properly discern or appraise or get an insight into him].
Calvinists are particularly adroit in their use of certain elected passages in Scripture to prove to you that man is unable to make the right choices in regard to his salvation.
How can he when he is an automaton with no free-will of his own? One of their pet passages is Romans 3:10-12 where Paul says that no one seeks God. Yet Scripture also encourages sinners in equally important passages (Hebrews 11:6; Deuteronomy 4:2; Jeremiah 29:13) to seek God with all their hearts and that when they seek Him thus, they will find Him.
It stands to reason that Paul’s reasoning in Romans 3:10 to 12 is not to convince you that man is entirely unable to seek God but that he, due to his deeply ingrained self-centeredness, has no desire to seek after God. We find the very same reasoning in Job 21.
Job 21: 7-14 Why do the wicked live, become old, and become mighty in power? Their children are established with them in their sight, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe and in peace, without fear; neither is the rod of God upon them. Their bull breeds and fails not; their cows calve and do not miscarry.
They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children skip about. They themselves lift up their voices and sing to the tambourine and the lyre and rejoice to the sound of the pipe. They spend their days in prosperity and go down to Sheol (the unseen state) in a moment and peacefully. Yet they say to God, Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways. (Emphasis added).
Complacency, utter self-centeredness and smugness are the reasons for man’s rejection of God and his ways and not a complete powerlessness or an inability to seek Him. God’s warning in Deuteronomy 6 is a stern reminder of God’s divine jealousy.
Deut 6:10-12 And when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you, with great and goodly cities which you did not build, And houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out which you did not hew, and vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and when you eat and are full, Then beware lest you forget the Lord, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
If a complete inability to seek God was at the heart of man’s problems, God’s innate righteousness to judge impartially would have been at stake. Why would He encourage mankind to seek Him with all their heart when He had already decided before the foundation of the world to predestine the elect to an eternity of bliss in heaven and the non-elect to an eternity of suffering in hell?
In both cases the word “seek” inevitably becomes a complete misnomer. It loses it’s meaning altogether. According to Jesus’ indictment in John 3:18 to 21 fallen man’s refusal to seek Him does not stem form an innate inability to seek Him but from a rebellious stubbornness to come to His light so that their evil ways may be exposed and reproved.
John 3:18-21 He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation-he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in and trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ’s name.]
The [basis of the] judgment (indictment, the test by which men are judged, the ground for the sentence) lies in this: the Light has come into the world, and people have loved the darkness rather than and more than the Light, for their works (deeds) were evil.
For every wrongdoer hates (loathes, detests) the Light, and will not come out into the Light but shrinks from it, lest his works (his deeds, his activities, his conduct) be exposed and reproved.
But he who practices truth [who does what is right] comes out into the Light; so that his works may be plainly shown to be what they are-wrought with God [divinely prompted, done with God’s help, in dependence upon Him]. (Emphasis added).
The above serious indictment certainly proves that man is not impervious to the fact that he desperately needs to seek God; indeed, he refuses to seek God because he hates the light. He lives and operates in the dominion of the kingdom of darkness (this present world system) of which Satan is presently the god and has no desire to seek out God’s light so that his evil deeds may be seen for what they really are.
They shun God’s global invitation to come to Him so that their sins may be dealt with according to His divine requirements, and rather tells Him “Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways.”
Salvation begins in a heart that contritely and humbly bows to the requirements of God’s Word which may be summed up in these words – willingness, acknowledgment, confession and whole-hearted responsiveness. Jesus once said that only those who know and acknowledge they are “sick” will acknowledge that they need a physician (Mark 2:17).
The sad irony is that everyone is desperately sick (Romans 3:23) but most people refuse to acknowledge that they need a physician. The Holy Spirit is ceaselessly working to convince the entire world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8) but the majority deliberately shut Him out or seek other ways to enter into God’s presence.
In spite of man’s ability to understand and believe the Gospel but callously refuses to respond in faith to God’s global invitation to repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15), Calvinism insists that man is totally depraved (dead in sin and trespasses) and consequently powerless to respond in faith to the requirements of the Gospel.
The only alternative, therefore (an alternative that does not jeopardize God’s sovereignty, they say) is to quicken only the elect arbitrarily and autonomously without them having to have faith in the Gospel and subsequently (after their regeneration) to be given faith as a gift. Below is a presentation of the Calvinists’ view of redemption and the biblical rendition thereof.
WORD OF GOD
|Total Depravity: Dead in sin and trespasses. Unable to understand and respond to the Gospel||Dead in sin and trespasses. Listens and hears the Gospel|
|God intervenes autonomously in the life of the elect without conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment.||Holy Spirit convicts of sin righteousness and judgment|
|Autonomous (monergistic) regeneration of the elect by a sovereign intervention of God (Faith not involved)||Convicted sinner responds in faith to the Gospel, comes to the Light of the world (Jesus Christ) and confesses his/her sins and lostness|
|God autonomously grants the elect the gift of faith subsequent to their autonomous or monergistic regeneration.||Repentant sinner receives forgiveness for his/her sins and is cleansed by the blood of Christ|
|The elect begin to believe the Gospel||Holy Spirit indwells repentant sinner. Thanksgiving and rejoicing|
|Sanctification (Perseverance of the saint)|
Sanctification(Life-long work of the Spirit together with the saint’s obedience to God and his Word)
Is John Calvin’s ‘Calvinism’ a vile doctrine?
England’s King James who was by no means an Arminian expressed his repugnance of the doctrine of predestination as follows:
This doctrine is so horrible, that I am persuaded, if there were a council of unclean spirits assembled in hell, and their prince the devil were to [ask] their opinion about the most likely means of stirring up the hatred of men against God their Maker; nothing could be invented by them that would be more efficacious for this purpose, or that could put a greater affront upon God’s love for mankind than that infamous decree of the late Synod . . . . (Read here)
John Wesley said:
The doctrine of predestination as maintained by rigid Calvinists is very shocking, and ought utterly to be abhorred, because it changes the most holy God with being the author of sin. (Read here).
Make your own assessment of Calvinism when we are going to evaluate its doctrines in the light of Scripture in the next few commentaries. Meanwhile, you may be interested to read the following article on Calvin and his horrendous murder of Servetus here .
(1) John Piper and Pastoral Staff, :Tulip”: What we believe about the Five Points of Calvinism: Position Paper of the Pastoral Staff” (Desiring God Ministries, 1998), 14 (2) Op Cit, 14-15