“We only use the term “Calvinism” for shortness. That doctrine which is called “Calvinism” did not spring from Calvin; we believe that it sprang from the great founder of all truth. Perhaps Calvin himself derived it mainly from the writings of Augustine. Augustine obtained his views, without doubt, through the Holy Spirit of God, from diligent study of the writings of Paul, and Paul received them from the Holy Ghost and from Jesus Christ, the great founder of the Christian Church. We use the term then, not because we impute an extraordinary importance to Calvin’s having taught these doctrines. We should be just as willing to call them by any other name, if we could find one which would better understood, and which on the whole would be as consistent with fact.
The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, is the truth that I must preach today, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as pairing off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.” -C. H. Spurgeon
Who rules the universe, God or Man? That is the basic question of theology. The system of theology known as Calvinism answers without any apology or compromise, “God is King.” Virtually all other systems of theology may say they agree, but upon closer scrutiny they place Man on the throne with God, or even depose God completely and enthrone Man.
Perhaps you may have wondered just what this Calvinism is to make such a bold claim. Obviously it is associated with the name of John Calvin, but its theology is much older. It is taught in both testaments of the Bible. Many of the early church fathers taught it, especially the great Augustine. Most of the Protestant Reformers were either Calvinists or in basic agreement with its theology, such as Martin Luther. Then there were the English and American Puritans, such as John Bunyan and Matthew Henry, almost all of whom believed in Calvinism. Later Calvinist preachers and theologians include Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, A.W. Pink, Martin Lloyd-Jones and James I. Packer. Calvinism has especially thrived in Britain, Holland and America.
Most Protestant denominations that originated in the Reformation are founded on official confessions of faith that are clearly Calvinistic, such as the Westminister Confession (Presbyterianism), the Canons of Dort (Reformed), the Thirty-nine Articles (Episcopalianism), the Baptist Confession of 1689 (Baptists), the Savoy Declaration (Congregationalism) and many others. Historic Lutheranism is very close to Calvinism. So, the theology of Calvinism is quite old and has stood the test of time. It is not a theological fad.
Calvinism is a branch of Evangelical Christianity, holding to all the essentials of the faith, such as the full authority of Scripture and the deity of Christ. Since the time of the Reformation, Arminianism has been its chief rival within Evangelicalism. But while historic Calvinism has been a bulwark against the inroads of Rationalism and Liberalism, Arminianism tends to open the door to Liberal theology. This is because Arminianism weakens the Godness of God and exalts the humanity of Man, while Calvinism emphasizes over and over that God is God and Man is Man.
If one wanted to sum up the distinctives of Calvinism, then he need only learn the meaning of the words “Sovereign Grace.” All Evangelical theologies will agree that salvation is solely by God’s grace, but Calvinism alone says that it is sovereignly given to whomever God chooses to grant it. To fully understand the words, then, one must understand the Calvinist teaching on the sovereignty of God and what we call “the doctrines of grace.” These are usually summed up as the Five Points of Calvinism by the popular acronym TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistable grace, and Perseverance of the saints. But, as we shall see, it all gets back to the question of who rules the universe.
We might add that Calvinism stresses the five great doctrines rediscovered in the Protestant Reformation, namely Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Solo Christo (Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory). Since we believe that all doctrines must be tested by Scripture (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21; Isa. 8:20), you are invited to search the Scriptures and see if Calvinism is indeed the teaching of the Word of God.
Dr.Curt Daniel is a knowledgeable student and teacher of Reformed theology and history. His approach is to “leave no stone unturned” in pursuing the truth of Scripture. His breadth of knowledge enables him to easily glean from the theological giants that have gone before.
Dr. Daniel attended Central Bible College (B.A.), Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and the University of Edinburgh (Ph.D.). Dr. Daniel teaches, preaches and publishes theological works consistent with Scripture and Reformed Theology.
The entire teaching series “The History and Theology of Calvinism” by Dr. Daniel can be found at Monergism.com. You can listen online and/or download any of the available lessons. I have long since downloaded the entire series and listened to all of the lessons. There are other good series about our subject and perhaps I will share some of those at the end of this series of blog posts.
There’s some personal history to share. There was a time when I was about as ‘anti-Calvinism’ as a man can get. I swallowed everything bad I heard about John Calvin, hook, line, and sinker. I drank the Kool-Aid. In fact, I don’t remember hearing anything good about John Calvin and Calvinism. My journey from idolizing the autonomous free will of man toward Reformed Theology was the result of serious Bible reading concerning the real state of fallen man according to Scripture as well as actually studying the actual history of John Calvin and Calvinism. I’ve also become familiar with many Reformed theologians, both living and dead.
If you are wondering what Calvinism (Reformed Theology) means to this old soldier, I am compelled to say that my salvation, which is ALL of God, has become more and more precious to me through the years. Knowing that even my decision to embrace Christ as my Savior and Lord was an act of God only serves to make a man more humble as time goes by.