By Colin Maxwell
An attempt to clear up some of the misunderstandings about Calvinism. This is not meant to be a detailed doctrinal defense of Calvinism’s Doctrines Of Grace.
1) Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism are poles apart. The terms are not to be used synonymously. A Hyper-Calvinist is not just a zealous Calvinist. We both consider each other to be “mongrel” Calvinists. No man will actually call himself a Hyper-Calvinist.
2) Yes Calvinists are split into several factions. But then so are many such doctrinal schools e.g. Dispensationalism, Church Government, Worship – do we sing only the Psalms or use hymns? Which hymns? Do we use music? Which music? Which set of texts do we base our Bible translation on? Is it the Textus Receptus that is important or the (KJV) AV? or both? etc.
3) The term free will needs to be defined to avoid confusion. Calvinists will either affirm it or deny it, depending on what they think you mean. This sometimes leads to charges of contradictions. Consult the standard Calvinist Confessions e.g. the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 9 for a defining of terms.
4) The term free agency is not automatically the same as free will when used by a Calvinist. It is the Calvinist’s preferred term to free will. Preferred so as to avoid the confusion spoken of in the above point.
5) Calvinists do believe in man’s responsibility, but deny his ability to repent and believe the gospel. The two terms are not synonymous. Calvinists believe that man’s inability to repent and believe are caused by his own sin … not any positive imposition on God’s part.
6) Calvinists do not believe that men are puppets or blocks of wood or robots, but responsible beings and are treated as such by God, even when fallen. [more about “puppets”]
7) Calvinists are not fatalists. Calvinists believe that God has ordained the end and also the means to that end. Therefore they do believe in evangelism as the means God uses to fulfill His intention of saving the elect. It is not true to say that Calvinists believe that God saves men without the gospel. Calvinists do believe in prayer.
8) Calvinists do believe that it is the duty of men to repent and believe the gospel. This is one of our quarrels with the Hyper-Calvinists.
9) Calvinists do believe that the gospel is (to quote Calvin) to be preached indiscriminately to the elect and to the reprobate (Commentary on Isaiah 54:13). This is another one of our quarrels with the Hyper-Calvinists.
10) Calvinists do not limit the value or merit or worth of the blood of Christ. They do limit the intention of the blood to save any other than the elect. We are happy enough (as was John Calvin) with the statement that the blood of Christ is sufficient for the whole world but efficient only for the elect.
11) Calvinists do not believe that men are damned without any reference to their sin. God passing by and leaving certain men in their sin is not the same as God damning men by the sheer force of His decree.
12) Calvinists do not just preach on the Five Points and nothing else. At least no more so than Dispensationalists who just preach on prophecy or Pentecostals who just preach on the gifts of the Spirit etc.
13) Calvinists do not read the Five Points into every text of scripture. Many of the major Bible commentaries, beloved and valued by all Christians e.g. Matthew Henry were written by Calvinists.
14) Calvinists do believe that men can resist the Holy Spirit. They believe that even the elect can resist the Holy Spirit, and do – but only up to the time when the Spirit regenerates their heart so that resist Him no more. The non-elect effectively resist Him all their lives.
15) Calvinists do not believe that men are brought kicking and screaming irresistibly to Christ. We believe in irresistible grace. The will is not passed by in salvation. No man ever came to Christ unwillingly, or regretted that he had been brought.
16) Calvinist’s do not believe that there are souls out there who want to be saved, but can’t be saved because they are not of the elect.
17) Calvinists, being without access to the Lamb’s Book of Life, see every man as potentially elect and preach the gospel to him.
18) Calvinists do believe in unconditional election but they do not believe in unconditional salvation. Except a man be born again, he will not enter the kingdom of Heaven (John 3:3) Except he repent, he will perish (Luke 13:3) Except he be converted etc., all these are conditions of salvation.
19) Calvinists do believe that regeneration precedes faith in Christ. We do not confuse the term regeneration with that of justification or salvation. The Spirit of God regenerates the elect sinner enabling him to forsake the deadness of his sin and willingly embrace Christ and so be justified by faith and saved for eternity. Regeneration therefore is not synonymous with justification or salvation any more than conviction of sin is synonymous with conversion to Christ.
20) Perseverance of the saints does not mean that Calvinists believe that they must hang on for dear life without any reference to the keeping power of God. It simply means that we believe that the Christian will prove to be an overcomer in accordance with 1 John 5:4-5 etc.
21) Some Calvinists use the phrase Particular Redemption as opposed to Limited Atonement because they can see how the General Redemptionist position may also be said to limit the atonement, although in a different way (i.e. it does not set out to do all what was intended).
22) Calvinists do not believe that John Calvin is infallible, no more than Methodists believe that John Wesley is infallible or Dispensationalists allowing Schofield or John Darby the final word.
23) While Calvinists believe that saving grace and repentance are the gifts of God, given only to His elect, they do not believe that God exercises faith for them or repents for them. The elect sinner, enabled by the power of God, actually repents and believes for himself.
24) While there can be no real middle ground between the Calvinist position and that of the non Calvinist, yet most Calvinists believe that both sides really do preach the gospel. Despite our differences as to many of the details, a man who preaches that Christ died for the ungodly and that the work was sufficient to save the whosoever who will repent and believe is really preaching the gospel. We rejoice in the gospel preaching of John Wesley just as much as that of George Whitefield, although (naturally) we would hold Whitefield to be the better theologian.
25) There is a difference between a paradox and a contradiction. We know that God is sovereign, yet man is free to follow the dictates of his own will. Where the two lines meet is not for us to say. Calvinist ignorance on the matter is to be excused on the basis of Deuteronomy 29:29
26) Although Calvinists believe that even sinful acts are ordained by God (Ephesians 1:11 / Proverbs 16:4) yet such makes the event certain, but not necessary. This clears God from being the author of sin. This view best explains the Cross (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28 / Luke 22:22). This is explained further elsewhere on this site.
So there you have it. I don’t expect this list to really convince any body of the correctness of the Calvinist position. It is not meant to be a doctrinal defense of Calvinism. I give few references because I want to keep it short and easy accessible. The standard Calvinistic Confessions e.g. the Westminster Confession of Faith etc., should be consulted for definitive statements. The Dictionary of Theological Terms (Rev. Alan Cairns – Ambassador-Emerald) is an invaluable tool. Hopefully it will clear up more than a few misunderstandings. It is wearisome in the extreme to see a caricature of your faith pilloried. Perhaps someone on the other side of the fence (non-Calvinist) might engage in a similar exercise and so clear up any misunderstandings Calvinists might have. [Adapted from original article by Colin Maxwell]