“What Is a True Calvinist?”

That was the question asked by Phil Ryken in a little pamphlet published by Presbyterian & Reformed in 2003. I picked this pamphlet up the other day while grabbing some books for my upcoming fall classes. Over the next couple of days, I thought I’d share how Ryken answers that question and add a few personal reflections on this as well.

The question about a true Calvinist is a big one in the SBC for several reasons. First, the SBC is currently undergoing a study on the influence of Calvinism in the SBC. I see this as a good thing so long as they consider the following point. Second, almost everyone whom I have heard in disagreement with Calvinism has not properly defined it or treated it fairly. Case after case, sermon after sermon, I hear misrepresentations, caricatures, and straw men. This makes the study of Calvinism in the SBC very difficult. Inasmuch as one would go to a dedicated and authentic Christian to understand Christianity, methinks it would be good advice to do the same with Calvinism. Simply listening to sermons by preachers who are anti-Calvinism will only lead one to a skewed perspective not based on fact but bias. Imagine going to someone who is an atheist and have them define or describe essential truths of Christianity. We would be foolish to think an atheist would present a clear and thorough explanation of Christianity, especially when he is militantly against it.


Third, with the growing popularity of Calvinism, there will be cases where offshoots and erroneous professors will be taken as normative for evangelical Calvinism. I suppose any person can take an extreme example or exception and attempt to make them the poster boy of something they are really the antithesis. Over the course of this past year, I have heard several different attempts to lump Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism together, even by those who know better. To make such an error is to say all Arminians are Open Theists, which no one without substantial evidence can do so. Furthermore, new terminology is being employed, such as the term “neo-Calvinism.” Dr. Timothy George most recently used this in his article in the current First Things publication. In addition, news outlets intended to paint Calvinism in a negative light have used this term in a pejorative way to turn their readers against Calvinism. Others on the internet are familiar with the initials “TR” which means “truly reformed.” As Ryken explains, “the ‘Truly Reformed’ are considered narrow in their thinking, parochial in their outlook, and uncharitable in their attitude towards those who disagree” (5). Most notable among those who use this term is Michael Spencer (Internet Monk) and the eclectic group in the Boars Head Tavern. Rule #40 has shown to be a badge of honor for many Calvinists in the blogosphere.

Fourthly, the medium through much of the discussion of Calvinism, (namely the Internet) has often lead to polemics and well-deserved criticism. For example, let me direct you to Phil Johnson’s first article on his widely-read blog called “Quick and Dirty Calvinism.” Johnson makes some good and justified points about the dangers of being “an ugly Calvinist.” Ryken acknowledges this as he adds that “some Christians who identify themselves as Calvinists seem to be in a perpetual state of discontent with their pastors, often making uninvited suggestions for their personal improvement. Others seem overly concerned with converting people to their ecclesiological denomination. Still others have memorized TULIP but somehow seem to be missing the heart of the gospel” (5-6). Ryken then responds by saying that “this ought not be. In fact, it cannot be, provided that Calvinism is rightly understood” (6).

While I am most certain there are other brothers who can do a much better job in explaining the heart of a true Calvinist, I would like to add a little contribution of my own by sharing some of my own thoughts from reading Ryken’s little pamphlet. I have learned that whenever I approach someone attacking Calvinism to ask them to define their terms and discover what and how much they actually know about the doctrines of grace or Reformed theology. After hearing their caricature, I end up telling them, “No, I am not that kind of Calvinist.” So, as we enter into a little discussion and attempt to answer the question, “What Is a True Calvinist?” my hope and prayer is that some questions can be answered, misrepresentations can be corrected, and a humble commitment to the biblical truths of Calvinism will be strengthened.

For some resources about Calvinism, see:

Founders Library
Founders Journal
John Piper TULIP Seminar (scroll down to “Free MP3’s under T.U.L.I.P.)
J.I. Packer’s Intro to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ
Monergism (General)
Monergism (Calvinism)
Fide-O Articles

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13 Comments on ““What Is a True Calvinist?””

  1. Josh Buice Says:

    Timmy,

    I am looking forward to reading your points regarding this issue. It is a very important issue, and it deserves a great deal of attention.

    We need to get together on campus soon!

    Rev. Josh Buice
    http://www.joshbuice.blogspot.com

  2. Carla Rolfe Says:

    “my hope and prayer is that some questions can be answered, misrepresentations can be corrected, and a humble commitment to the biblical truths of Calvinism will be strengthened”

    And amen to that. I very much look forward to this.

    SDG,
    Carla Rolfe


  3. Josh,

    Indeed, we need to meet up. I will be the bald-headed Middle Eastern guy drinking the non-alcoholic beverage on campus (with a highlighter or two in my hip pocket).  🙂

  4. Nathan White Says:

    Yeah Josh, Timmy will be the guy wearing one of these shirts:

    http://www.cafepress.com/centuri0n/1551344

    http://www.cafepress.com/centuri0n/1571389

    LOL…Timmy, I still dare you!

    SDG

  5. Gene Says:

    A’ight! It’s on now!

    It’s a triple dog dare! (Everybody say Ooooo!)

    The True Calvinist is the one that has his picture made next to Mohler. Bonus if you’re shaking his hand and have him point at your shirt!

  6. Timmy Says:

    . . . and I thought the first day of class was tough.

    I do believe in miracles.

  7. Nathan White Says:

    LOL, I can’t wait to see how this unfolds. However, back to the post….

    Timmy,

    You had some great thoughts, and I just have one thing to add: I am preparing a post this week to discuss how Calvinism has become a fad. Yes, I know, there are a lot of Arminians who are saying that in order to cast doubt on the doctrines, but I really do think that ‘fad-driven Calvinism’ is becoming a danger. I think this deserves some consideration when doing your post on this subject. The straw-men are not coming JUST from the Arminian side…

    I will have more to say as soon as you guys let me out of my cage to post again 🙂

    SDG

  8. kletois Says:

    One would hope to be a true disciple of Christ, not a true Calvinist, or Arminian, etc.

  9. Timmy Says:

    Kletois,

    So are you saying that one cannot be a true disciple of Christ and a Calvinist?

    The issue is not whether you want to be a disciple, but what kind of disciple. By this I am saying that I believe Calvinism best represents God and His glory in creation and redemption. I believe in God’s God-centeredness and seek to live my life in conformity to such God-centeredness. This is quite contrary to Arminianism and man-centered theology which focuses on the autonomy and self-determination of man and holds to a synergistic salvation.

    As a discple of Christ, I desire to be like my Savior who did everything on earth for the pleasure and will of our heavenly Father. Furthermore, such discipleship from the life of Jesus will develop a conceptual framework and theological construct will serve as a lens in which one views reality. We all have them whether it is admitted or not. The question is whether the lens/hermeneutic/worldview is most grounded in Scripture. My argument is that Calvinism provides the best picture and framework to understand life, salvation, and all of reality under the glory of God. In the meantime, I am earnestly praying that Christ will daily be formed in me as I seek to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is He who is at work in me, both to will and to work according to His own good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).

  10. Timmy Says:

    For what it’s worth, I have been named “UPS’s most famous blogging Calvinist” by Bob Ross and Charles the Brave. 🙂 Interestingly enough, they have nothing to say about my article, except that it’s source is from a “baby regeneratationist.”

    As good men like Gene and Dr. Nettles among among others are slandered by men like Bob Ross and Charles, let us be careful NOT to respond to inflammatory, sinful comments. There is nothing redemptive or Christ-honoring in the discussion over there, so I would just want to encourage you to refrain from reading or reacting to their shameful comments.

  11. johnMark Says:

    Timmy: Klet is not saying that…you’ve got to know brother klet. Maybe he’ll share what his theology is.

    klet: “See” you later.

    Mark

  12. Tom Says:

    “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.”

    Much is valuable in the thought and teaching of John Calvin. However, the system of Calvinism was not totally formed by him. As I remember Theodore Beza was the major systematic organizer of the principles of Calvinism and as his starting point he took the decrees of God (Predestination) which may have distorted the the system.

    Most reformed people put regeneration before the doctrines of faith and repentance because of their over-emphasis on the analogy of the “sinner being dead in sin”. This is not the only analogy of sin in the Holy Scriptures.

    Also, the Reformed view of infant baptism as being a New Testament replacement for Old Testament Circumcism is a truly fatal flaw in their theology – especially from a Baptist Theology viewpoint. One of my professors said “An enormous amount of theology can be determined by what a person believes about baptism.

    Augustine justified his view of infant baptism, infant salvation, on predestination. Believers baptism carries with it a significant theology.
    Number one – salvation is a volintary act of an individual that is able to understand what he or she is doing. Baptist do not simply believe in Adult baptism by immersion, the believe in Believer’s baptism.

    The point being not just the mode but the fact that the person has professed to have received Jesus Christ prior to his baptism. Baptism has many significances, one of which is a public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ. Much as a true formal marriage is a public declaration. Marriage not simply being a private matter between two people. Baptism is not simple a personal matter between that person and God – it a matter of commitment to God, his way of life, and the Christian community.

    Throughout the history of Calvinism there was a problem with its covenant theology – halfway convenanters etc. Church became filled with alleged Christians which has never been regenerated. This covenant theology does hold to the Baptist concept of the purity of the local church.

    What is meant by the purity of the local church. It is not the moral purity that is meant, it is the concept of the ideal of a converted membership.

    Baptist theology insist on a converted church membership. Is this always the case, no! However, every person that becomes a member of the local assembly must give proof of being a true believer. Number one, the person must profess faith in Jesus Christ. Informed Baptists question closely those who seek admission to their membership to see if the person truly understands the matter of salvation – in particular does this person understand the concept of saving grace

    Thereafter, the professed believer is expected to give evidence of conversion by living a biblical and godly lifestyle.

    Obviously perfection is not the goal as the true Baptist understands the doctrine and application of grace and true forgiveness.

    Another aspect of Reform theology which I consider to be quite problematic. Most of the reformers came out of the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, they did not shed all the filthy garments of Romanism – one of which was covenant theolgy. The other is replacement theology. The Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches that it is a replacement of Israel. It acts both in a spiritual and politic sense. The Roman Catholic church has been notorious for its inquistions and persecutions of true believers throughout history. Unfortunately, some of the reformers did not totally escape this viewpoint. The Roman Catholic Church is inherently anti-semitic. And reformed theology also tends in that direction. Roman Catholic Theology and Reform Theology is generally amillennial or postmillennial (yes, there a many exceptions). They tend to be partial preterist in eschatology.

    Premillennialism was clearly taught immediately subsequent to the Apostle John – Pappas and Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who sat at the feet as a disciple of the Apostle John. Being about the time of Augustine and Eusebius allegorizing and spiritualizing of Scripture became a method that subverted a normal literal view of prophecy regarding a Messianic kingdom in the future. When Constantine in 325 A.D. declared Christianity to official religion of the Roman Empire Augustine concluded (falsely) that the millennium was already here in the Church which would fully conquer the world by 1000 A.D.

    Thus Augustine was both an Amillennialist and postmillennialist at the same time by spiritualizing the Kingdom of God and literalizing it at the same time.

    Another idea that Calvinist conclude is either mis- applied or distorted – that is that faith is a gift of God. There are two passages from Scripture that they believe that support this view. Both of which there are legitimate potential alternate interpretations.

    29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;

    Philippians 1:29 For unto you,it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him….”

    This verse does not truly teach that faith is a gift. It actually teaches that it is a responsibility and requirement. Thus a person was not only required to believe on Jesus Christ, but also to suffer for his sake. I believe that the context is sufficient to interpret this verse correctly.

    The second and one that apparently teaches that “faith is a gift of God” is Ephesian 2:8,9.

    Regardless of the many that believe that even the Greek of this passages comfirms their belief that faith is a gift of God, there are many of equal competence in biblical Greek that believe that
    the gift spoken about is the “gift of being saved by grace” This salvation is received via the channel of faith. The act of faith is not a anymore work than the dirty hand of a beggar that receives a crust of bread by the grace of the donor.

    Unfortunately, distorted Calvinism can create a dead a lethergic Christianity. In fact, that was what Jacob Arminius was concerned about. And recent publications have shown that he never held that a truly converted person could finally, fatally, and permanently fall from grace.

    Best wishes who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ in truth. Personally, I would consider myself a modified Calvinist, in that I believe certain of the aspects of Calvinism to be biblical accurate. However, I will not swallow the whole hook, line, and sinker – especially convenant Theology.

    Tom

  13. Jesse Says:

    Does anyone have a list of who was on the Rule 40 list? It seems I-Monk has put an end to rule 40 and the list is gone.


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